Movie theaters survive against streaming

Students forget magic of movies

Published by James Cressman, Date: September 1, 2023
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Seeing films on the big screen was, at a time, a religion for some people. Families, friends and couples could often be found at their local theater on a Friday night.

It was a shared experience, a moment when a room full of strangers came together to celebrate, to grieve, to be entertained. The movies could be an escape from everyday problems and hardships. 

There is nothing quite like the movie theater experience and getting your tub of popcorn, a soft drink and maybe some candy. Shuffling into the auditorium and trying to find the perfect seat; it is one big interactive event. 

For some, the first movie they see in theaters becomes a core memory. While polling students on campus, The Rocket found some aspects that make this moment so memorable were the bright colors of the film “Tangled,” the sounds and music of “Star Wars” and of course, the buttery popcorn.

Since a majority of SRU’s undergrads grew up with streaming services like Netflix and Hulu available, The Rocket asked how students watch new films today. 

Out of 84 responses, survey results showed most of our respondents fell between the ages of 18 and 24, which is the standard age range when looking at “traditional” college students. Seventy-one percent of those respondents were female, 26% were male, and 2% were non-binary. 

Twenty-nine percent of surveyed students indicated that they only watch movies a few times a month, and 26% stating they watch movies once a month or less.

It seems students are not only watching fewer movies but also willing to wait longer to see them. Thirty-eight percent of our respondents indicated that for newer films they will wait for the film to be released before going to see it. Twenty-six respondents indicated they frequent their local movie theater.

According to Statista, based on demographics gathered in 2022, people within the age range of 18 to 34, only 12% indicated they frequent the movie theater.

What makes college students go to the movie theater? For 76%, they indicated that it is more about the social activity with friends and family than it is about the film, while 71% said that it is for the anticipation of a specific movie. 

Forty-six respondents said they are willing to wait an undetermined amount of time after a movie’s theatrical release before watching. As mentioned previously, films are being released to digital and streaming platforms so quickly, the wait tends to not be long at all. 

How students discover movies has also changed over the last decade. Sixty-two percent of our respondents indicated that they find out about new and upcoming movies through social media platforms such as Instagram or Twitter.

Along with social media marketing, the unique experience of going to the movies has seen a change in recent years due in part to the rise of numerous streaming services and the COVID-19 pandemic.

After the movie industry came to a screeching halt in 2020, studios had to make tough choices to either delay a film by a full year or release it digitally. 

Warner Bros. used the opportunity to release their film lineup to MAX, formerly HBO Max. When theaters began to re-open Warner Bros. decided to release the remaining films of their 2020 lineup both at home and in theaters on the same day, which had devastating results. 

“Wonder Woman 1984” brought in a worldwide box office of $169 million, a far cry from the $822,000 the previous film in the franchise ended its box-office run with.

The streaming service finished Q1 of 2020 with 47 million US subscribers which fell to 38 million at the close of Q3. It then rose in Q4 to 41 million—which coincidentally lines up with the release of “Wonder Woman 1984”. 

Since 2020, films have seen faster turnaround onto streamers and digital platforms. “Insidious the Red Door” opened in theaters on July 7, 2023 only to be available less than a month later on Amazon Prime and iTunes on Aug. 1.

Does this short turnaround model affect the viewing habits of the “traditional” college student? That is unclear, but many of the respondents remember their first film in theaters and can link that memory to an overall feeling. 

The movie theater experience isn’t just about seeing a film in a theater. It is about being with a favorite loved one, the father/daughter dates and hearing an iconic soundtrack for the first time.

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