It’s a rainy Friday night, you walk through the doors, smell the popcorn, grab your tickets and you’re ready to sit back, relax and enjoy the movie you’ve been waiting so long to see. A trip to the cinema has been a social activity since its introduction into modern society in the 1890s. But how common really is a trip to the cinema in our busy lives and jam-packed social calendar?
At the 2014 Film Festival in Cannes, Quentin Tarantino mourned what he described as “the death of the cinema.” However, cinema attendance has risen by 12.8 million over the last 10 years, with 177 million cinema attendees in 2018, compared to 164.2 million in 2008. (Independent Cinema Office)
With the digital age in full swing, the generation who “want it all and want it now” have observed the integration of television, the move to digital projection and most recently, the rise of the streaming service. However, recent statistics from EY’s Quantitative Economics and Statistics group revealed that people who go to the cinema also frequently use streaming services. With so many facilities and content available from the comfort of your own home, this poses an interesting question – is modern cinema really a dying business?
The film industry is a highly competitive, high cost market that is estimated to be worth over £40 billion by next year. In this high cost market, films are churned out to the box office consistently. In 2017, a staggering 821 movies were released to UK cinemas over the course of a year, which equates to about 15 releases per week. This means if you saw two movies, twice a day every week you still wouldn’t have seen all the new releases.
However, the box office is a product driven environment rather than customer driven environment. Unfortunately, if there isn’t a movie that appeals to our interests, as a customer, we simply wouldn’t pay cold hard cash to see it. However, this works both ways as massive releases like Star Wars or Fifty Shades of Grey have people rushing to the box office. This means the cinema goes through peaks and troughs of business, depending on the big blockbuster releases of the week.
The Independent Cinema Office stated that in the cinema,
“A hit film results in high ticket income and high concession sales. And vice versa. There is comparatively little that a cinema can do if there is a poor run of film releases.”
WHAT BRINGS YOU TO THE CINEMA?
Speaking to cinema-goers in Odeon Cinema in Victoria Square to find out what brings them to the box office.
Katie Wilson, a 31-year-old mother of three from Belfast said, “It’s my go-to family day out especially for our little ones. It’s always a struggle to entertain the kids when weather isn’t so good on the weekends and the cinema is always a good shout.”
Sam Boyd and Kelsey Mitchell, both 16 from Carryduff said, “We always come on a Friday night, after we finish school. A big group of us meet up here and watch whatever we fancy.”
George Tannahill, who is 73, travels from Ballyholme to the Odeon once a week said, “It’s a way of getting me out of the house… a good excuse to be social. And the movies look better on the big screen.”
Aoife McMcGuigan, 21 and Conor Ramsay, 22, are studying at Queen’s University in Belfast, said, “I can’t remember the last time I was at the cinema but we’re actually here to see Dumbo. It’s a film I watched as a kid, so I was dying to see the remake. It’s a break from the books as well!”
It’s clear from talking to cinema-goers people are still eager to make a trip to the box office. But how much does a trip to the cinema really cost for the customer? Looking past the ticket price, which usually costs around £6.50, you then have an unrivalled range of sweet treats and delicious snacks to choose from, which most people feel comes part and parcel to your cinema experience. What most people don’t know is that a large part of a cinema’s profit is made through the sale of concessionary products.
Comparing four well established cinema franchises to establish how much a night at the movies really costs the consumer.
Omniplex, an Irish based cinema chain has 29 sites across Ireland, whilst Odeon has 115 cinemas across UK and Ireland and is famous for its city centre locations. Vue Cinemas has 280 sites and 2400 screens across Great Britain and dominates the industry. Northern Irish film retailers, Movie House Cinemas has five sites across the province and is a small family run business offering competitive prices.
Overall, the average night at the cinema isn’t overly costly compared to other social activities. A social acitvity which involve alcohol or having dinner in a nice restaurant, with the cinema experience not costing the consumer more than a £20 note for a night of entertainment.
THE INDUSTRY TRUTH
Speaking to Irene Dorrans, Manager of Movie House Cinemas in Coleraine, she discussed her experiences of the changing cinema industry in her 15 year experience:
Cinema is working hard to bring even more to the box office, but it’s clear competition is fierce and cinema chains are expanding rapidly. Belfast is host to a total of eight cinemas but will have one less at the beginning of June. CEO of Movie House Cinemas, Michael McAdam, discussed his decision to close one of his central Belfast cinemas. The site on the bustling Dublin Road has traded in the city centre for over 12 years, employing 33 staff members. He commented:
“The decision to close my Dublin Road premises was difficult and was done with a heavy heart. The increase in cinemas in the Belfast area didn’t correlate with the customer demand, especially in the city centre. We’ve seen a big shift in cinema attendance out of the city and unfortunately we were left with little choice.”
This would seem to be a good example of the death of the cinema in Northern Ireland. Whilst Mr McAdam attributes this closure to the city centre location rather than streaming services, Tim Richards CEO of Vue Cinemas views business differently. He stated that:
“Netflix should not underestimate the value and impact of a full theatrical release for the content it owns. They should consider carefully the impact the big screen experience and environment has on creating and profiling cultural blockbusters.” (SAE Institute)
AN ACADEMIC PERSPECTIVE
Film and Television Lecturer, Stephen Baker, in the video below, discussed whether academics are correct in seeing signals leading to the death of cinema.
THE RISE OF THE STREAMING SERVICES
With the rise of the streaming service, giving us the ability to watch all the latest and greatest movies and series on demand, a trip to the cinema becomes a lot less appealing.
The infamous “Netflix and chill” is like a cultural phenomenon, becoming a popular euphemism for a way to spend your evening. Why go out when you can watch a bigger choice in your living room? But Netflix is not the only streaming service on the market. The price and content war between streaming services is getting more competitive and more lucrative with Netflix alone raking in profits of over $1.2 billion alone.
Recently, Disney announced their own streaming site, Disney+ which will stream the classic Disney vault movies, as well as Star Wars, PIXAR classics and the popular Marvel franchise, with an affordable price tag. For Netflix, this doesn’t bode well as the Disney films currently housed on Netflix are set for removal. Disney is an institution, appealing to people of all ages with the world’s best known characters like Mickey Mouse, Cinderella, Buzz Lightyear, not to mention a host of Marvel superheroes. But whilst Netflix is probably feeling a little hot under the collar, will the public really want to fork out for another streaming service?
With competition hot on the heels of Netflix, a comparison of the most popular streaming services available in 2019:
As easily the most popular streaming service, Netflix is a low-priced way to access thousands of the latest, most popular movie and television series releases. The most basic Netflix package costs only £5.99 per month and gives access to multiple genres of content. You’ll struggle to find someone without a Netflix account, or at least without access to one. Alpha statistics revealed that in a study, 68% of respondents said Netflix had the most appealing content compared to other streaming services. Having pumped a massive $10 billion into original content, the success of 2019 series like Birdbox and You speak for themselves. Birdbox alone surpassed 45 million views in the first week of it’s release.
Amazon Prime Video is an offshoot of the famous Amazon brand. Prime Video comes with as part of the subscription to the company’s Prime delivery service. Prime Video alone costs £7.99 per month and gives you access to exclusive content like Man in the High Castle and Bosch. A close competitor to Netflix, Amazon Prime focuses more on TV series than films or documentaries but has a similar catalogue of content.
Hulu comes in at the most affordable of the streaming services, but you’ll have to sit through a few ads for the £4.50 tag price. The service doesn’t support 4K streaming or HDR video which all the other streaming sites offer yet has a modest subscriber rate of about 25 million. Offering exclusive viewings of widely popular The Handmaid’s Tale and Castle Rock series have had a positive effect on the influx of subscribers to Hulu.
Disney+ has an artillery of streaming capabilities, which is heavily rivalling Netflix. Removing their shows from the popular streaming service has been the first step with Disney’s own classic animated movies like “The Lion King” and “The Little Mermaid saying goodbye to their Netflix stint. Movie franchises like Star Wars and Marvel are probably not traditionally associated with Disney, aptly followed by Disney owned series The Simpson’s. Rivalling Netflix’s content with an affordable price tag could see Disney and Netflix enter a war of the streaming services.
THE THREAT OF PIRACY
Streaming services are the legal way to watch the newest movie releases, but what about illegal streaming sites? The film industry has been fighting a mass battle against film piracy. Piracy is defined as
“the unauthorised duplication of an original recording for commercial gain without the consent of the rights owner.” (USLegal)
Movies are being recorded in cinemas and uploaded and distributed online at no cost to the consumer. Piracy is a criminal offence, which could leave you with a hefty fine and a 5-year jail sentence. Films distributed online cost the UK film industry upwards of £500 million per year with these sites receive over 9 billion hits in the UK alone.
By 2003, DVDs had replaced older VHS methods for a more technologically advanced option. Now, in 2019 DVDs are practically extinct with very little cultural value. Piracy can be attributed a large portion of the blame, as well as the readily available pirated copies online, or the legal option of streaming sites – both of which pushed DVDs into extinction.
Cinemas are making every effort to stamp out film piracy as it is causing extreme economic loss, showing piracy warnings, as seen above, at the beginning of each film. However, where piracy has also threatened to see “the death of cinema” it seems that it is another technological advancement which cannot offer the big screen cinematic experience.
AVENGERS MIDNIGHT PREMIER: DON’T SPOIL THE ENDGAME
Avengers: Endgame is the final instalment in the long running Avengers series which saw midnight screenings take place across the world on 25th April 2019. The crowds seen above, document just a portion of the crowds attending the midnight premier at a very busy Coleraine cinema. Talking to budding Avengers fans just before the big reveal, would this premier have the same affect on Netflix?
The medium of cinema has faced many technological battles over the year, each calling for its timely extinction. The introduction of television was supposed to signal death of cinema in the 1950’s, yet it continues to stand strong. The film industry reacted to the new medium by introducing new technology which introduced widescreen, 3D, high definition and incredible sound systems. However, even without new technology the demand for the cinema was as great as ever.
Streaming services act to compliment the cinema, where the entertainment value of both services has value in modern society, where both offer different experiences. Currently, cinema is a stable industry and new theatres are opening just as fast as they are closing. It is obvious that the streaming service will never be able to replace the cinema’s big screen or the social spectacle of a night at the movies.
Whilst streaming services looks set to be the future of entertainment, cinema isn’t set six-feet-under just yet. There is still ample opportunity to grab your tickets on a rainy Friday night, smell the popcorn, sit back and relax. In the war of streaming versus cinema, just like your favourite movie superhero after a climactic battle, cinema lives on.