The COVID-19 pandemic created a major upheaval in the entertainment industry. Most theaters, concert halls and cinemas were shuttered for at least a year and television and film production halted for months, leading to hundreds of thousands of layoffs and large sums of money lost.
Not only were those directly working in production affected but so were people that support the industry, such as caterers, florists and trucking companies. “It also impacted workers in industries that depended on new and updated franchises, such as those who work in toys, books and apparel,” said Gene Del Vecchio, an adjunct professor of marketing at the USC Marshall School of Business and an entertainment industry expert.
But while the film industry has seen a number of negative effects due to the pandemic, it hasn’t been all bad. Del Vecchio noted that “stuck-at-home consumers fueled a tremendous increase in streaming, as noted by the staggering gains made by Netflix and Disney+, in particular,” as well as a general increase in video gaming.
With many movie theaters either in the process of reopening or still uncertain about the future, production companies have turned to these streaming services to debut their movie slates. One major film studio, Warner Bros. Pictures, decided to release all of its 2021 films on HBO Max. This allows for more people to stream new movies from the comfort and safety of their own homes while also prompting the question: What does the future hold for movie theaters, streaming services and film studios when the pandemic ends?
USC entertainment experts think streaming is the future
Del Vecchio believes streaming is more than a trend; it’s the future of entertainment. “COVID-19 showed a great number of consumers that it is far more convenient and cost-efficient to stream films and TV shows,” he said. “More studios will launch films simultaneously in theaters and streaming, or streaming alone, which will deeply cut into theater business.”
This will result in more investment of cash and manpower from entertainment companies into streaming services, leading to the long-term goal of gaining and maintaining streaming service subscribers.
COVID-19 showed a great number of consumers that it is far more convenient and cost-efficient to stream films and TV shows.
Gene Del Vecchio
Wendy Wood of the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences believes that increased streaming is one of the pandemic habits that’s most likely to stick around. She told the Los Angeles Daily News that “ultimately, more people will end up watching movies on Netflix at home because we have gotten used to that.”
According to Henry Jenkins, the Provost Professor of Communication, Journalism, Cinematic Arts and Education at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, there is still a future for movie theaters. He believes that in the long run, the pandemic will “benefit local, independently owned cinemas because they will have greater patron loyalty, more capacity to make choices that reflect regional tastes and interests, and more chance to organize film events rather than typical release strategies.”
Essentially, he said, cinemas will become reserved for more dedicated, niche audiences that will continue to support the theaters for years to come.
American television may face increased competition from overseas content
As for television, Jenkins said that “the lowering of production standards via remote production practices has taken away one of American television’s core advantages in both domestic and transnational markets: high production values. This situation suggests we will see greater foreign competition for American eyeballs as long as the international content fits within popular genres.”
Americans have become more comfortable streaming non-English language content, for example, the French mystery thriller series Lupin. The trend is likely to continue as international companies continue to produce content at a similar quality or even higher quality than the content American companies are creating.
Regardless of what the future holds for the entertainment industry, USC experts believe these shifts will have a long-lasting effect on American culture and media.