Cinema has been shrinking in size for some time now. A summit in 2019 run by the New York Times helped to voice some of the concerns of cinema-makers about the future of the industry. 2019’s box office was down nine percent on 2018’s figure, for instance, as patrons looked elsewhere for entertainment.
The uncertain future of many chains of cinema in both the US (AMC) and the UK (Cineworld) further reinforces these concerns. But it doesn’t mean that people don’t want to watch films or engage with entertainment. It means that people want to find new ways in which to do so – increasingly utilizing digital technology. Other industries have survived by utilizing a hybrid approach – how can cinema?
Digital Access to Cinema
The decline of cinema pre-2020 was likely due to the cost of tickets for an experience that is largely unchanged since the 1960s. Some films are in 4K, which isn’t supported by all TVs. Equally, those wanting to enjoy 4K in a physical form will be watching the latest Blu-Ray debuts at home. Others are blockbusters and benefit from a big screen, no distractions, and surround sound. But many films don’t offer much-added value beyond being on a bigger screen and counting towards a trip out of the house. Could changing how films are delivered help in the future?
The 2021 Golden Globes ceremony held on Zoom video communication software showed that digital boosts could be given to even the most traditional concepts – such as awards ceremonies. Sure, there were mishaps, but the gist of the experience remained the same. Indeed, for viewers who may be put off by the pomp of awards shows, seeing celebrities humbled may be endearing for some people. Indeed, this reflected the 2008 Golden Globes, which skipped their live telecast due to the WGA strike – which precipitated a new era for high-end TV.
British talk show The Graham Norton Show (2007-present) was able to accrue a wider range of guests during 2020 onwards when they permitted video interview segments – bringing together stars who might otherwise have been unable to travel to the UK for the taping of the show. Digital methods such as video calls help level the playing field. By normalizing it for celebrity shows and award shows, it helps show what could be done through digital means for those not yet at A-list status, which could help people embrace the cinema again.
Digitizing the Traditional
As the options to play live casino games on Betway show, classic table games such as poker, roulette, and blackjack have been transformed into immersive online experiences. The dealers are dressed to the nines as they would be in a casino and the personalized nature of the game helps to create added tension. Elsewhere, other concepts such as wine tasting, and cocktail making have been transformed into online events. Wine tasting online, such as wine tasting at home offered by John Lewis & Partners, helps bridge the gap for those who have never considered it before. The pared-down price and accessibility for novices help to introduce people to things they have never appreciated before.
Similarly, offering museum tours in digital ways – such as the Virtual Tours offered by the National Gallery in London – helps to bridge the gap between how the physical and digital can combine to create a better experience. The tours take the innate benefits of being there and add a digital flair, offering something more for visitors. Also, as the most physical of concepts – office work – has changed and twice as many employees (42% according to a study from Stanford) are now working from home using a blend of physical and digital, it shows that the technology is there for better cinematic experiences.
Can the Cinema Survive?
If cinema is to beat home video and streaming, then it must find a way to offer an experience that cannot be replicated at home. Indeed, the 2021 movie Promising Young Woman is already fast-tracked to home release in March 2021 after its nominations sweep at the Golden Globes, showing that the lag between home release and cinema has been slashed. Elsewhere, the release of Fukushima 50 for on-demand services shows that one of cinema’s benefits – foreign films – can also be replicated by other methods.
If the cinema wants to survive long into the future, it must make a case for itself. By focusing on creating experiences rather than just putting a film on a bigger screen, people may be more likely to appreciate it. Rather than lean towards digital, this means heading back towards the traditional. The Everyman cinema chain, for example, has semi-private showings, allow guests to sit on comfortable seating, order food and drink, and create more of a luxurious experience. It may cost more, but the benefits offer added value.
The cinema is an institution and part of many people’s social lives, so it doesn’t look as though it will disappear forever. However, the industry could learn from others to see how a blend of digital technology and the traditional could be used to ensure it has a healthy future.