More Theatrical Release Pushbacks Among Increased Uncertainty

It appears that the COVID-19 pandemic has dealt yet another blow to the entertainment industry. Traditional theatrical distribution models are once again being tested as variants of the virus thrust the industry back into an all-too-familiar state of uncertainty. 

This week, Paramount Pictures announced that three major movie releases slated for 2021 have been pushed to 2022. This announcement comes on the heels of growing concerns for safety and an increased hesitancy to return to crowded spaces like movie theaters as a result. And it’s likely only the beginning of another wave of pushbacks. 

Back in March as vaccines were beginning to roll out to the general public in the US, we wrote with cautious optimism about the future of movie theaters in the wake of disrupted distribution models. We wrote about the monumental decline in theater visitorship and the increase in PVOD releases as a result. Even as a glimmer of hope returned to the theater industry with the vaccine rollout, industry giants like WarnerMedia forged ahead with simultaneous PVOD and theatrical releases

And just as the light at the end of the tunnel grew brighter, we’ve been pulled back once again. Just as the initial wave of the coronavirus called into question the distribution and production models Hollywood has held near and dear for centuries, new variants of COVID-19 are forcing us to revisit difficult conversations about the future of the theatrical industry and entertainment distribution in general.

Made for the big screen

These conversations are complicated by a number of factors. One is the decision whether to shift a film slated for a theatrical release to streaming as a premium option. This can potentially help to recoup at least some of the costs of lost theater attendance. The problem is, some movies are just not made for a small screen audience. Films like Paramount’s Mission Impossible 7 are simply made for the big screen. Paramount likely would, at the very least, consider releasing on PVOD a disservice to the special effects, intense action, and superhuman stunts that distinguish a big-screen release from a small-screen one. The larger-than-life feel, the eventizing, and the major marketing campaigns are ultimately unneeded efforts if the film is just to be dropped on a streaming platform. What’s more, features that make a theatrical hit a hit cost more, justifying a theatrical release. 

It’s too early to tell whether PVOD earnings could someday rival or surpass those of theatrical releases as consumers become accustomed to this new way of viewing. However, historically studios have relied heavily on theatrical releases for revenue, and they still do. The shortening distribution window and move to simultaneous or exclusive PVOD releases not only threatens theaters but also threatens studios’ bottom line. 

Arming the industry against uncertainty

All in all, it’s tough to say what another round of lockdowns and pandemic-related restrictions would do to the battered theater industry fighting to claw its way back to pre-pandemic visitorship. But one thing is clear: when times are uncertain, a backup plan must be in place. 

While theaters rely on in-person attendees to operate, other areas of the business increasingly shift to virtual settings. The pandemic has only perpetuated the inevitable migration to virtual TV and movie content testing, market research, and streaming. While some release that these modern forms of test screening have longevity beyond the pandemic, others are slow to change. Some have even returned to antiquated methods of testing as pandemic woes seemed to subside. However, it’s time for the industry as a whole to embrace new methods. They must consider testing and screening content virtually if they wish to remain resilient in the face of modern challenges. 

Future-proof your films with the right tools

Luckily for the industry today, solutions like Invoke make it possible to migrate content testing entirely to an online setting. By testing TV and movie content virtually, studios, networks, and streaming platforms need not worry about whether lockdowns will impact the test-screening area of the business. Instead of gathering a few participants in the backroom of a movie theater to test-screen content, both the organizations and the consumers can take part in testing research from the comfort of their own space — wherever that may be. 

What’s more, virtual content testing enables large-scale, highly selective groups of consumers to view content in a secure online setting and react to it in real-time for split-second decisions. This makes this form of research more efficient and effective than previously possible with traditional research methods. With virtual test-screening research, you can more confidently make the necessary changes to your messaging, characters, storylines, and marketing. 

Keep testing operations running seamlessly, no matter what’s happening in the outside world. Request a demo today to learn how Invoke’s content testing solutions can help arm your team against uncertainty.

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