Against all the odds, cinemas continue to pull in the crowds


Business is booming for US cinemas, the heroes from Avengers: Infinity War and Incredibles 2 helped the industry notch up a record 3.3 billion-dollar sum for the second quarter of 2018. That figure marks the best three-month period from April to June on record, 22 percent higher than the same period the year before.
What’s perhaps surprising is that it comes at a time when many people are talking about the death of the traditional cinema, with video-on-demand services like Netflix or Amazon speeding the process. The downfall of the traditional cinema experience has been predicted time and again for years, according to US cinema expert Jason Squire, a professor at the USC School of Cinematic Arts in California. 
Such dire predictions are nothing new, Squire tells in an interview, with similar concerns expressed during the video recorder’s heyday and later with the rising popularity of the Internet. He sees the range of options with optimism, saying that competition helps foster creativity. That’s not to say that the streaming revolution hasn’t knocked some of the wind out of Hollywood. In 2017, the US cinema industry reported its lowest ticket sales since 1992. Only by raising admission prices did cinemas manage to keep total revenue from slipping too far, recording 11.12 billion dollars.
The old studio and cinema system is under pressure as a wave of mergers and takeovers rolls through Hollywood. Film budgets and marketing costs are skyrocketing. And studios are falling back on dependable franchises. US journalist Sharon Waxman, founder of online industry publication The Wrap, recently swore that the end of the large studios is near. The future ‘power players’ will be tech giants such as Netflix, Amazon, Apple and Google, predicts the expert.
Netflix has long been stealing market share from studio giants such as Disney. The video-streaming leader, with more than 125 million users worldwide, will spend roughly 8 billion dollars this year and is on course to produce half its content itself. This includes television series, films, documentaries and comedy formats. 
It’s not just happening in the US either, Netflix, known for Stranger Things and House of Cards, is now available in more than 190 countries. Hollywood stars are flocking to the company as well. Actress Jennifer Aniston agreed to the Netflix comedy First Ladies in May, in which she gets to play a US president. Comedian Will Ferrell is writing and will star in a comedy about the Eurovision Song Contest for the streaming firm.
Old Hollywood is meanwhile fighting back with its own streaming services. Disney will offer its own films exclusively to paid subscribers online starting in 2019, including those made by its Pixar branch, Marvel hits and Star Wars adventures, spelling the end for the studio giant’s co-operation with Netflix thus far. Either way, cinemas will have to continue to find ways to persuade potential audiences to exchange their living rooms for the big screen. This could eventually mean technical gimmicks, such as virtual-reality stations in the foyer, or special events, such as the live streaming of sports events or concerts, says Squire.
In response to the latest figures, Paul Dergarabedian of media analytics company comScore told The Hollywood Reporter, “This boom proves once again that the box office is a cyclical and unpredictable beast. The rumours of the death of the theatrical movie-going experience are not only greatly exaggerated, but also misguided in their myopic misunderstanding of the very nature of the business.”
Despite the technical novelties it represents, Netflix still relies on a tried-and-true marketing strategy, huge billboards. Industry insiders say the company is sticking millions of dollars into putting such billboards in prominent places, such as along the legendary Sunset Boulevard between Hollywood and Beverly Hills.
Squire thinks it’s a good strategy, what with all the important Hollywood executives who travel back-and-forth along that stretch. Netflix wants to give the impression that it’s on the same level as the studios, says Squire, but in fact, it’s already there.– DPA

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