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Will it be doom and gloom for cinemas post-pandemic?

Cinema 5

Cinema is one of the many creative arts industries heavily impacted by the pandemic, and many have fretted for its future.

Affected by national and regional lockdowns, cinemas have had to remain closed for extended periods and the industry now faces the complex challenge of post-pandemic recovery.

We may pose the daunting question: what is the future of cinema?

Throughout the lockdown, cinephiles have gravitated towards streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime to obtain their regular fix of film. While the cinema industry has taken a hit, streaming services such as these have skyrocketed in popularity.

During the first months of the pandemic, 12 million people joined a streaming service that they hadn’t used previously.

This surge in online streaming has undoubtedly helped many deal with the lingering malaise of lockdown, by transporting viewers to another world and providing them with an accessible form of escapism.

It is difficult to foresee the long-term impact that the pandemic will have on the cinema industry. Even so, the current effect of the lockdown is clear to see.

Cineworld has reported a £1.3 billion loss during the first half of 2020. It is estimated that global box offices will potentially not recover to pre-pandemic levels until 2024.

Some cinemas have had to shut down permanently due to their closure over lockdown, and a total of 45,000 jobs could potentially be lost.

These financial repercussions are evident worldwide: domestic ticket sales in the US, for instance, were down by 80% in 2020 to $2.2 billion, from $11.4 billion in 2019.

The impact is not only financial, however, but intrinsically cultural – France’s internationally renowned Cannes festival was cancelled in 2020, for the first time since the Second World War. This year it has been postponed from May to July.

Cinema has also had to compete with the online games industry, including games such as Fortnite and Call of Duty: Warzone.

Within a month of the lockdown, the number of Steam users rose by 50 percent, from 16 million to 24 million.

Over lockdown, the video game industry has impressively generated more revenue than other entertainment sectors – more than both the film and music industry combined.

Despite the boom in other creative arts sectors, however, the future of cinema may not be entirely bleak after all. The cinematic experience has always been regarded as a unique one, and as such it simply cannot be replicated at home.

The communal aspect of viewing a film is integral to the experience: the ‘oo’s’ and ‘aa’s’ during dramatic revelations, and laughter at witty punchlines all make for a more enjoyable experience.

The darkened rooms allow for fewer distractions, and it is difficult to pry one’s eyes from the events on the big screen.

Especially considering the anticipation of upcoming films, including Dune and No Time To Die, people are eager for the opportunity to see action-packed films with high quality sound systems once again.

Most importantly, cinemas offer a great opportunity for social gatherings, a luxury that will most certainly not be taken for granted in the aftermath of the pandemic.

To keep their customers engaged, cinemas will undoubtedly need to be more ambitious with their content, which could take the form of upgrading their selection of food and drink.

Credit: GN

Cineworld has been attempting to increase customer confidence by introducing staggered film times, physical distancing in auditoriums and foyers, and additional cleaning.

The average price of UK cinema tickets has been steadily increasing over the years, leading many to wonder whether cinemas will consider slashing prices to boost sales once they can reopen.

Whilst it is not clear if the Western cinema industry is considering this, international cinema has considered a more drastic approach.

In what appears to be a counterintuitive move, South Korea’s Lotte Cinema is planning to raise ticket prices to combat losses from the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is worth wondering – would this tactic prove profitable if adopted by the cinema industry in the West?

The pandemic has ultimately caused a significant blow to the cinema industry, causing many to question its relevance at a time when streaming services and easily accessible digital content are at their zeniths.

The cinema industry will need to find new and inventive ways of boosting attendance to ensure a steady recovery and maintain relevance in the creative arts industry.

Despite this, lockdown has led to a greater appreciation of the cinematic experience. After nearly a year of being at home, people are hankering for days or nights out.

Going to the cinema is not just about seeing a film: it is about enacting a culturally enriching experience.

It is for this reason that audiences have cultivated a sentimental attachment towards cinema that has most likely not been lost.

For the film community – the uniquely thrilling, collective experience of cinema is not something that can satisfactorily be recreated from the comfort of one’s living room.

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