It goes without saying that many of our societal institutions and traditions are being disrupted by the changes the internet has brought about. Now, some of the biggest names in tech and finance have predicted that one of the most beloved American traditions might soon vanish thanks to the wonderful technological marvel that is streaming on demand video. According to Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and stock analyst firm MoffettNathanson, straight-to-theatre releases of new films could soon be uprooted by streaming.
Netflix has been testing the theatrical release waters for some time. The streaming service caused some not-so-minor controversy at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival this year when it eschewed French cinema rules by releasing two of its original films for streaming before the traditional 90-day waiting period after their theatrical releases; Cannes then changed its official rules in response to Netflix’s decision. Similar squabbles arose in South Korea when Netflix wouldn’t push back its streaming release date for original film Okja in light of theater chains’ requests to do so, a decision which resulted in Okja being boycotted throughout South Korea.
Despite those troubles, it seems Netflix has no intention of stopping with its plan to release major studio films straight to streaming. At the 2017 Code Conference hosted by Recode, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings told the crowd be believes theaters and studios will have to change their practices or face serious disruptions to their market shares. “Ultimately,” Reed stated, “consumer choice is a very powerful force.” Consumers clearly want more streaming options if rising subscription totals are any indicator, and more streaming options are appearing all the time.
More worrisome for theaters, stock market research firm MoffettNathanson recently downgraded their ratings for Regal Entertainment and Cinemark Holdings, two of the largest theater chains in America. MoffettNathanson analyst Robert Fishman says that his firm downgraded these stocks due to the changes his firm foresees in the film industry. Fishman believes straight-to-streaming releases will become more common and that streaming services and studios will soon reach industry-wide agreements on pricing and practices for such releases, making them more appealing for consumers.
Theaters are already feeling these effects. IMAX, one of the leaders in high-definition theaters, has had to lay off employees and sell of some of its stock in recent months due to declining ticket sales. Sure, many of us will be thrilled to be able to stay at home in our underpants to catch an opening night release of next summer’s big-budget blockbuster films, but if we’re not careful and let the movie theater die, we’ll lose a tradition which has been part of American culture for years. As they say, though, you can’t stop progress – or whatever we call this lemming-like march of technological disruption we find ourselves on. So long, old sticky-floored friend.