We don’t need a crystal ball any longer to be able to see the changes that are coming.
While most people debate the loss of revenue, the spread of the coronavirus disease, the festival cancellations, the movie release date shifts and the telecommuting, there are much bigger and more impactful changes to think about.
And that’s the story we’d like to cover off on today.
Most immediate is the question about Film Festivals. With dozens of major companies canceling out of South by Southwest, and Cannes in May next on the list, the question isn’t about whether or not entertainment executives desire to be packed into warm little screening rooms next to coughing, sneezing, stuffy-head fever’d strangers who might give them a present they never actually wanted in the first place… No, the question is how festivals and agents and the economy surrounding film sales at such events can still happen without actually being there in person.
Here’s one to grow on: did you know that while festivals are happening at far off places, sales agents are often setting up local NY and LA screenings for those who couldn’t attend? And they’re sending streaming links to potential buyers to watch in the privacy of their own homes? It happens. It’s been happening for years. So, when it comes to the sales process, there’s nothing that coronavirus has on the sales process. It can continue as it has been, with no stoppage whatsoever.
But what about the festival attendees? The red carpets? The whole she-bang? Well, this is where festivals are going to have to employ something they’ve been trying to keep separate from for years. That thing?
Yes – festivals, if they were smart, would work fast to create streaming live components for their schedules. Limit the streaming invitees in much the way entertainment companies provide codes and exclusive apps during voting for Emmys and Oscars. Setup the live streams with the live red carpet interviews and make people feel like they were there in the first place. It’s going to happen for NBA and MLB games, just watch. So then, why not get ahead of it now, Cannes, and prep that app so the majesty of your festival can remain intact.
What about movie-going?
Movie going is going to take a hit, much like air travel already has. Already, the trends have shown that people don’t particularly like being jammed in next to strangers they don’t know, with their texting and their talking and their loud popcorn eating. Already, the theatrical experience has left something to be desired for many. This is why the increase in streaming versus movie-going has continued to cannibalize the business. The threat of this virus is going to do the same exact thing.
So what the heck can theatrical exhibitors do? Can they embrace the one thing that they’ve been trying to vilify for years? Do you know what we’re talking about?
Yes, there’s that awful curse word again. Streaming. The theatrical exhibitors have been fighting the day-and-date streaming model for at least a decade. They’ve been worried that it would cannibalize their own revenue streams and their concession profits. But as everyone as seen, theatrical attendance has been declining, and the amount of seats filled on any weekday is often insignificant. The studios have been trying (along with Netflix and Amazon) to get exhibitors to at least let them stream their movies after 6-8 weeks in theaters; which by that point, no non-Disney movie is even around anyway.
Well, now there’s something that might just change exhibitors’ minds.
As attendance drops over the next set of months, and movies have been shifted to later in this year, theater owners are going to start to get really concerned about the loss in revenue. And what better way to off-set the P&L loss than to agree to work with streamers and studios to both shorten the theatrical window and be a financial partner in that streaming day-and-date opportunity that the streamers and studios have been wanting to try. This may very well be the window of opportunity to take a bigger budget film whose release date will not get pushed off the March/April/May time frame, and see what happens when you make it available for a reasonable price (read: $20-30) to all those sequestered at home.
It happened with The Interview, except for it was hacking instead of a virus. This time, it will happen and we’re going to call it for The New Mutants or Tom Hanks’ Greyhound. Both represent a question in the mind of studios. The New Mutants is something that is a questionable success, so making it available day-and-date on a streaming platform would be a good test. As for Greyhound, a movie that has a very strong over 65 demographic (the demographic that have more to worry about when it comes to the virus), it would be a perfect test.
And then, what about in-person business?
Already, companies like Twitter and Facebook and Microsoft have asked their employees to stay at home through March. Entertainment companies aren’t too far behind. Mega agencies like CAA have asked all agents to hold virtual meetings and video conferences instead of bringing people into the office. Yes, despite everyone in Hollywood loving the in-person meeting, it looks as if the one thing they’ve strived to keep on the back burner, is actually going to come full circle to the forefront. That thing?
Oh, boy. Here’s that streaming thing again.
The telecommuting and the tele-meetings and the virtual conference calls and the Skype-this and the FaceTime-that? Get ready, because we’re about to be a business of streaming. Fortunately, it won’t be for the long haul, but when all is said and done and everything dies down? We’re going to be an industry that leans more heavily on the virtual employee. It’s something workers across the country have wanted, and now out of necessity, it’s going to be something that becomes more of the norm.
Finally, we would be remiss, if we didn’t cover one last super important aspect of this whole rigamarole. Something key. Something significant. Something that cannot be understated or ignored when it comes to how the Hollywood entertainment business functions. That one thing?
The how did you get to this meeting conversation; a la The Californians.
Every conversation before every meeting in Hollywood is taken up by the same, repeated conversation we’ve all been having for years. Yes, how in the heck did you get to this meeting today? Which freeway? Which short-cut? Did you use Waze? Was the 101 packed? Was there a perp chase on the 405? Did you come over the hill, via the 5 or across Mulholland?
See, no one’s gonna be driving anywhere? No one’s gonna have those conversations to share? So what the heck are we all gonna do?
New material. We’re going to need new material. New things to talk about? But where the heck are we going to find that?
There’ll be lots of content to talk about. Enough to mitigate the loss of our favorite time-wasting conversation ever.
Yes. Next to a long-gestating vaccine, only streaming will save the day.