In the world of online streaming services, will cinemas survive?
For nearly 100 years, movie theatres have been at the heart of the art and film industries.
They have been used to broadcast political screenings, host film festivals, and most prominently, they have graced everyday people with an atmosphere to collapse into the dreamlike world of the latest movies. But with the rise of online streaming services such as Netflix, will cinemas become just another technological memory, left only to be seen in old movies?
The introduction of television in the 1950s signalled immediate fears about the future of cinemas. Why would people get on their horse and carriage (my movie knowledge is better than my history) and schlep to the local cinema to pay for a form of entertainment they could receive at home?
Suffering mild to severe panic attacks, Hollywood and other large film industries began scrambling to discover a new incentive that would entice viewers to their big screens.
So coloured images were born, and cinema was, for the moment, safe. Amen.
But with the rise of video hire in 1982, the future of cinemas became fragile once again. Cinema-goers could now just wait a few months and watch the movies of their choice in the comfort of their groovy disco lounge rooms (again, my history may be a little fallible).
The video craze caused the biggest fall in cinema attendance to date.
Whereas previously the average of individuals who had attended a cinema in the previous 12 months was around 67 per cent, by 1986 this statistic had dropped to 53. The Walt Disney Company subsequently began utilising the attractive 3D technology, which developed in tandem with film’s newest phenomenon, DVD.
And that brings us to today. Like a pack of hungry stock brokers in Wolf of Wall Street, online streaming services seem to be grovelling for our subscriptions. Everywhere we look there is another way to watch the latest blockbuster. Very little of those options involve going to a cinema.
Yet somehow cinemas remain as integral a part of our movie watching diets as ever.
As if they have been gifted a miracle by the movie gods, the rate of individuals who have attended a movie over the last year currently sits near 70 per cent. But the thing is, I’m a movie god atheist. As much as it would appear otherwise, cinemas have received no miracle. Actually, cinemas have survived because the very essence of their existence is irreplaceable.
First and perhaps most obviously, the viewing quality in cinemas is far greater than anything you will receive at home.
As we often hear, some films just need to be watched in a cinema. Sure you could sit and watch Mad Max on your 13 inch macbook, but will you appreciate it in the same way? (Hint: no).
But it is the magical intangibility of the cinema experience that makes it so much more than simply an improved image. There’s the thrill of the most expensive snack selection in the world. There are the deliberations over the best seating allocation (anyone who preferences anything other than centre centre is wrong). There’s the person who laughs at everything, leaving you to wonder if you’re watching the same movie. There are the previews. The person who constantly checks their phone. The chatters. The realisation that you’ve drunk too much expensive Coke and need to go to the bathroom but you’re only 20 minutes in and now spend most of the movie focusing on suppressing the urge to urinate.
Most of it drives you mad. But it’s what makes cinemas special.
It’s what makes cinemas impossible to replicate. At the end of the day, it’s what we’ve fallen in love with.
Streaming services have taken their toll. While people are still attending the cinema, they are doing so less frequently than ever. And that is understandable. Although it isn’t the same, Netflix often manages to quench my movie cravings without me needing to leave my bed. But sometimes you just feel like going to the cinema. Sometimes you not only want the big screen, but you want the whole cinema experience. Because an experience is exactly what it is.
You can give me it all. Netflix, Stan, Apple TV, bloody Hulu.
But at the end of the day, I love treating myself with an occasional trip to the cinema. It’s a desire that new technologies are going to struggle to fill. And I’m happy about that. Cinemas are precious, and as far as I can see (praise be the movie gods) they will remain precious for a long time.