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How the pandemic is changing the future of the movie industry

With more than 500 theaters, Regal is the second largest cinema chain in the United States...
With more than 500 theaters, Regal is the second largest cinema chain in the United States after AMC.(Source: CNN/Regal Cinemas)
Published: Dec. 4, 2020 at 11:26 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - The pandemic has changed the way many industries do business and Hollywood is no exception.

Last year the film industry made about $11 billion. This year amid the coronavirus pandemic, that number has dropped closer to $2 billion. The tough stretch is forcing companies to try new things to keep their audience.

This week, Warner Brothers announced that in the new year, it will not only release new films to theaters, but also to HBO Max’s streaming service. The films will be available at no extra cost to subscribers the day of release.

Experts in the film industry say this is a game-changer but while it provides a new option for movie buffs, it brings much uncertainty to local theaters.

In Dane County, public health orders banning indoor gatherings has closed many movie theaters. ‘I wouldn’t go back to the theater until there’s a vaccine even if there’s a mask requirement,” said Kourtney Freiburger of Westport.

UW-Madison media professor, Dr. Derek Johnson says even the largest theater companies are struggling right now. He says the new option to stream releases at home will likely be attractive to many families because of the lower cost.

Johnson says the most impacted by the popularity of streaming services will be the theaters. They will now have to compete with one another and with what people can get at home.

Despite the convenience and lower cost of an at-home movie night, some say it’s no substitute for the traditional experience. “You can put it on at home but it’s just not the same,” said Julie Gallagher of Madison. She says she misses the atmosphere of being at the movie theater and enjoyed going with others or alone pre-pandemic.

Jake Westenberger says the streaming option is nice to have, but he believes people will start going back to the movies when theaters reopen. “If production houses are releasing movies through streaming, I hope they help their local movie partners out,” he said.

Prof. Johnson says in the past, we’ve seen pressure on the film industry result in new innovations like 3-D movies to give people something at the theaters they can’t get anywhere else.

He says it’s likely companies will need to get creative to stay afloat moving forward but only time will tell what they come up with next.

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