COVID-19 and the Reign of Streaming Services

Avery Chien, Staff Writer

Ever since we were plunged headfirst into the unknown of the COVID-19 pandemic, many Americans have been seeking ways to detach from reality. With movie production put on pause and  theaters shutting their doors, many families turned to streaming services for their quarantine entertainment. According to the LA Times, online streaming service subscriptions soared to 1.1 billion worldwide in 2020, an increase of 26% since 2019. Many IHS students report their families have invested in at least one new streaming service over quarantine, and have overall increased their movie watching frequency since the pandemic began. The sudden changes in our cultural landscape meant a catastrophic loss in profits for the entertainment industry, and also pointed towards an even more digital future in which individuals prefer to watch movies in the comfort of their own homes. 

Many have not ventured into a movie theater since the pandemic first started in spring of 2020. According to Forbes, theatrical revenue dropped from $42.3 billion in 2019 to only $12 billion in 2020. Senior Katie Butler says, “The last time I went to the movie theater was on New Years Eve in 2019.” Highly anticipated movies were pushed and released at a later date, with a significantly smaller box office return than was predicted prior to the outbreak. The live-action remake of the iconic Disney animation “Mulan” flopped in select theaters in March and on Disney+ and made only $70 million in box office revenue, despite having an approximated $200 million budget. Similarly, “Wonder Woman 1984”, the sequel to the 2017 $825 million grossing film, made a measly $166 million, and was dual released in theaters as well as HBO Max. 

“Mulan” and “Wonder Woman 1984” are two of many films movie companies have released on streaming platforms in an attempt to mitigate their financial losses. Animated movies such as “Soul” and “Luca” quickly found success among families after skipping the theater and being sent straight to Disney’s streaming service, Disney+. In fact, Disney+ has been a popular investment for several IHS families. Junior Sebastian Lorete says, “Once we saw it, we had to get it. Our family loves Disney, so we watch it every weekend, every chance we get.” Many have speculated that the success of Disney in particular over the pandemic is due to families watching more content together due to quarantine measures. Freshman Henry Feduff says, “I started watching a couple more movies with my dad, such as “Deadpool” and “John Wick.”” Since its purchase of Marvel Studios, Disney’s monopoly on popular entertainment has allowed it to stay relevant and thriving throughout the pandemic. According to Box Office Mojo, three of the top five grossing movies of 2021 are all from Disney, with “Black Widow” and “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” snagging first and second place. Disney movies were also popular among a few IHS families. Butler recalls, “I think “Soul” came out this near on Disney+.” Feduff, sophomore Tempest Chase, and Lorete all mention watching “Black Widow” and “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”.  

Across America, 55% of consumers liked the idea of seeing new movies on streaming services rather than in theaters, even as COVID-19 restrictions were lifted, reported one Forbes article. Sophomore Tempest Chase is a part of that demographic, stating, “My parents are very introverted. They like watching movies but they don’t really like going out to theaters, so I think it definitely did increase our movie watching. It was definitely a preferred choice, even when theaters were open again.” Lorete remarks, “I wouldn’t be surprised if they release on streaming platforms first then the theaters.”

Many Americans question whether this makes theaters obsolete as on-demand streaming begins to overtake theater showings. The dependence on streaming services grows as consumers realize how convenient it is to watch newly released movies on demand. Lorete says, “I definitely think people are going to stick with streaming services. It’s so easy just to sit on your couch and browse through movies instead of getting up and going to the theaters.” Some companies already skip the theaters completely. For example, Netflix produces and releases its own movies and TV shows exclusive to their platform. Butler believes there is a substantial market for these movies, saying, “I’ve definitely seen a lot of Netflix movies get super popular.” It’s true: many Netflix originals have become not only well-known among general audiences, but also received acclaim from film critics. From teen rom-coms such as “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before” and “The Kissing Booth” to award-winning works of filmmaking like “Roma” and “Marriage Story.” Netflix proves it has what it takes to enter the film industry as a solid competitor, the first production company to never once depend on theaters. 

However, many IHS students say they will return to movie theaters after the pandemic ends. Lorete says, “I love going to the movie theaters because it reminds me of my childhood. The popcorn is very nostalgic to me.” In terms of what the movie scene will look like for all of America, a couple students have similar ideas, noting that while they will attend theaters again, they believe the majority of people will be turning to their streaming services even after the pandemic ends. Butler remarks, “There will be a bit of people trying to reclaim the feeling they haven’t been able to get going to the movie theaters, but I think for the most part people will be streaming because it’s so much easier.” 

As theaters begin to reopen around the country, film festivals return to exclusive screenings, and companies begin shooting big-budget movies, the question of what consumers really want still lingers. Producers and marketers will have to think critically about how to best maximize America’s fascination with convenience and technology.