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How the Pandemic Caused a Revolution in Cinema

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It’s no secret that the pandemic caused upheaval, across lives and industries. The mass upset and uncertainty it brought to the globe indirectly linked itself to an era of social justice reform and mass change. It permanently shifted cultural mindsets and affected views on everything from the way we live and work to the way we view entertainment. 

The media and entertainment industry was forced to adapt an age-old model of content creation and distribution overnight in-person production may have halted, but demand for content was at an all-time high. This change felt drastic for the media and entertainment industry, as it is one that is rooted in tradition and in capturing the magic of the cinematic experience. Now, as we embrace life in a post-pandemic era, it doesn’t seem like the industry is looking back. But is that such a bad thing?

Seismic Shifts Led to a New Normal

When the world was faced with the COVID-19 pandemic, the media and entertainment industry flipped upside down. When we measure the effects of the pandemic against what it did to Hollywood, all seems trivial. However, this is an industry in which the typical movie-going tradition dates back to the late 1800s.

When production halted in early March 2020, hundreds of movie premieres were delayed with no restart date in sight. In order to keep up with growing demand from viewers at home desperate for entertainment, the industry had to adapt. With theaters forced to close due to stay-at-home orders, we saw a dramatic increase in streaming TV subscriptions and major studios such as Disney and Universal, skipping theatrical releases of what would have been major blockbusters all together, and instead, heading right to the small screen. In Q4 of 2020 alone, 228 films were released directly to streaming services.

While the industry has, in the meantime, found ways to produce content remotely or safely return to studios, in-person theatrical releases have still largely lagged behind. 

Until now.

A Hybrid Model for the Industry

When Warner Bros first announced its plans to adopt a hybrid release model for 2021—films would appear in theaters but also stream simultaneously across various platforms—people were shocked. Disney soon followed suit with its announcement that major blockbusters such as Mulan and Black Widow would also be skipping the big screen. Is the hybrid approach here to stay? Will we be traipsing off to the movie theater to see a new film, but also have the option to stream it the next day if we want to see it virtually, or just again from the comfort of our homes? Will the model eventually evolve to incorporate next-generation technologies that immerse people directly into the cinematic experience they crave?

For some, a hybrid model felt overdue. After all, it is an effective way to eliminate cinema deserts. Cinema deserts are areas across the country, and world, where movie theaters are just not common. The communities are small and might not have the population numbers or resources to sustain chain theaters. However, small communities are the backbone of the cinematic world. In fact, Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri fall in the top 5 of states with the highest total foot traffic at theaters in the United States. They still want to consume content; they still want to experience the magic of cinema. That is where social cinema comes in.

Defining Social Cinema

At Kinema we define social cinema as human-centered distribution. It starts with an individual and extends to their community. A pastor with a church, an influencer with a following, and activist with a mission. All using movie-going within their spaces—online and off—to build community and connection.

It does not diminish the importance of the traditional theater, but it allows for communities outside the reaches of one to have the same cinematic experiences as those who live in large metropolitan areas. Social cinema is not a replacement for movie theaters; it compliments them. It creates more diverse audiences, more content and places a greater emphasis on storytelling.

The Future of the Industry

So what does all of this mean for the media and entertainment industry? Is the hybrid model or social cinema ending the movie theater industry? The simple answer is no, of course not. Warner Bros has recently announced a deal with Regal cinemas owner Cineworld that will ensure in 2022, Regal theaters will have full exclusivity to Warner Bros films for 45 days. While that is shorter than the previous 90-day window, it still means something. As we near the post-pandemic era, it is clear that people still want to go to the movie theater; they still crave the magic of the cinematic experience.

The pandemic forced the media and entertainment industry to challenge its norms and dismantle institutionalized thinking of what it means to feel the magic of the cinematic experience. However, it did not eliminate people’s desire to experience cinema. The pandemic opened doors for more audiences than ever before to have access to media and entertainment. Social cinema emerged as one of those opportunities. Through social cinema, communities gained access to the cinematic experience without the confines of a traditional movie theater. This change has revolutionized the industry and will continue to move the industry forward, not backwards.

[Editor's note: This is a contributed article from Kinema. Streaming Media accepts vendor bylines based solely on their value to our readers.]

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