Movie Fans Turn to Streaming During Lockdown

With movie theaters coast to coast operating at 50 percent capacity or closing altogether, Hollywood production studios are faced with some tough decisions: hold off on movie releases, pull the trigger on releases and hope for the best, or find another way to get their investment back and try to earn a profit on movies that were slated for spring or early summer release.

There remains, of course, an obvious choice. With millions upon millions across the globe stuck at home practicing “social distancing” movie producers could look to the one thing they know many of these people would be doing: streaming movies. Services like Amazon Prime, Hulu, Netflix, Disney+, NBC, and WarnerMedia are all jostling and jockeying for attention from frustrated and worried people looking for any kind of distraction from the threat of COVID-19.

There are already rumors of movies planned for theaters being released on Netflix and Amazon, and other smaller or independent productions are lining up for distribution through streaming services.

This new attention, especially from consumers outside the bullseye market for streaming services, could create a ripple effect that shifts the way Americans view media long-term.

It’s an interesting tightrope for movie studios to walk. They need eyes on their product, but they have long-standing relationships in the theater industry, as well as a wildly profitable business model.

The streaming model does have some good profit potential, but, it’s been around for many years now, and there’s a reason movie studios still choose big screen distribution, waiting months to allow their content to be streamed.

If market watchers and prognosticators are correct, that dynamic may shift a bit. Some are already saying streaming services could see a 20 percent increase in subscribers’ time watching streaming content. And that’s only current subscribers. There’s expected to be an increase in subscribers as well.

More customers spending more time consuming more products is a good challenge for streaming services to meet. It’s also an opportunity for movie producers looking for a way to get their product to market on time.

If they go that route, another question is created: How long will it take consumer habits to shift away from theaters to streaming, and what influence will that have on the industry going forward?

These questions don’t have any answers yet, and they may end up being tested and answered in real time, as the lockdowns and “social distancing” continues to stretch through March and into April.

The messaging around how these questions are answered, reaching out to consumers while trying not to overplay their advertising hand, will be interesting to watch.

How it’s handled now could be a preview of how Hollywood producers continue to communicate about the pros and cons of streaming, from their perspective, going forward.

Ronn Torossian

Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5WPR and one of the most well-respected Public Relations professionals in the United States. Ronn is the author of "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations."

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