GUEST COLUMN: Let’s Keep Things in Perspective

Image courtesy NATO

By Phil Contrino, Director of Media and Research, NATO

Sometimes it’s easy to fall into the trap of pitting industries against each other in a zero-sum contest. It certainly leads to more page views for news outlets if two industries are portrayed as being “at war.” 

It’s not that simple.

We encounter this mentality on a daily basis in the exhibition industry. It’s rare to have a conversation with a reporter about the strength of our industry without being asked about streaming. And that’s fine, because exhibition approaches this topic from a position of strength. In North America alone, movie theaters sold 1.31 billion tickets last year, and billions more were sold around the world. It’s easy to remain confident because 2019 and 2020 are packed full of promising titles. Globally, our industry is bigger than ever, and it grows at the same time that consumers continue to pick streaming over other means of consuming entertainment in the home. 

Consumers are more educated than ever about the options in front of them, and that means they aren’t making decisions entirely out of habit anymore. The notion of watching a sitcom when it airs on Thursday night and then going to the movies on Friday night regardless of how interested you are in the content on either platform is dead. Why is it so hard for some to grasp the idea that people can go see multiple movies in a weekend and binge their new favorite series? If content is appealing, people will make time for it and it will break out and shatter expectations. If it’s not, it will quickly fade into obscurity. What is clear is that people value both the theatrical experience and the streaming experience at different times. 

For the second year in a row, we tackled this topic head on by working with Ernst & Young on a study about how moviegoing and streaming habits are intertwined. The conclusion—which was covered by dozens of outlets around the world—is that, “Those who attended movies in theaters more frequently also tended to consume streaming content more frequently. For every race and age demographic, average streaming hours per week were higher for respondents who visited a movie theater nine times or more than respondents who visited a movie theater only once or twice.” 

We talk to members of the creative community a lot about the “war” between streaming and theatrical. They dismiss it. The reality is that content creators chose platforms based on what works best for each individual project. 

“The idea of pitting platforms against each other is kind of ridiculous,” said director/writer/producer Adam McKay in an interview I conducted for Boxofficelate last year. “It’s really like saying that musicians have to hate novelists … there’s room for everyone. None of us are buying any of that.”

Theatrical and streaming are two totally different experiences that shouldn’t be compared as equals. Streaming can never match the feeling of watching with a packed audience and feeling collective enjoyment as a movie connects in a big way. This is another thing that the creative community tells us over and over again: A “hit” on streaming—currently hard to define because of selective data releasing—doesn’t feel remotely as good as a hit in theaters. (Accountants who look at return on investment would say the same thing.)

The prestige that a robust theatrical run gives a movie is going to be even greater as direct-to-consumer platforms become more common. It’s a surefire way to make a movie stand out among endless options. 

Image courtesy NATO

News Stories