The year 2020, with the coronavirus pandemic, has seen a significant reordering of how Americans watch movies. Movie theaters closed in March, when the pandemic began, and while they have begun to reopen, most moviegoers have been staying away from multiplexes, out of fear that sitting in an indoor place with other people for as long as three hours might not be safe. Drive-in movies, meanwhile, have been revived, although not at any massive scale.
As a result, the movie studios have had to adjust. Some movies shifted to streaming services, either because their studios sold them to Netflix, Amazon or Apple, or because the studio (Disney, in most cases) moved the movie’s release to Disney+. In other cases, releases were switched to various forms of video on demand, either through “virtual cinemas” that benefited art house theaters, or Disney’s bet on the $30 rental of “Mulan.”
How successful have these moves been? It’s kind of hard to tell, as there are no impartial statistics available showing performances of such video-on-demand releases, and we only usually get clues either from research firms or things uttered during earnings calls by Disney and other public companies. But now, a new report says that video-on-demand has already begun to decline from its highs early in the pandemic.
According to Bloomberg News, in a piece this week headlined “Hollywood’s Online Movie Experiment Isn’t Paying Off,” the revenue from certain types of video on demand has been declining since the early days of the pandemic.
“Digital box office revenues are lower than they were in the early stages,” Richard Lorber, founder of indie distributor Kino Lorber, told Bloomberg. “And also certainly lower than they were with physical releasing.”
The proof, per the report, is in the bragging, or lack thereof. In the absence of any “official” figures, Universal loudly touted the strong performance of “Trolls World Tour,” back in the spring. However, high-profile releases since then have not seen their studios touting how well the movies have done.
It’s still unclear, for instance, whether the first-of-its-kind premium VOD release of “Mulan” was a success or failure. Disney has said they’re “very pleased” with how the release went, but they haven’t been any more specific than that. And perhaps more importantly, as pointed out by Bloomberg, Disney has not yet announced any plans to replicate the “Mulan” release model with any of its other upcoming high-profile movies, such as the Marvel release “Black Widow” or the Pixar film “Soul.”
The Bloomberg piece did note that the premium VOD model is likely here to stay, at least to some degree, especially following the recent deal between AMC Theaters and Universal to reduce the VOD window to seventeen days.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.