Cinemas were amongst the many businesses that were forced to close completely when national lockdown restrictions were imposed in March 2020. Reopening at the beginning of July, after more than three months without income, cinemas looked forward to the world going back to normal.
However, the reality was far from normal. Continuing restrictions meant a visit to the flicks was anything but typical—masks had to be worn inside cinemas, unless you were eating or drinking. Fewer people were allowed to purchase tickets, to enable social distancing when customers were seated.
Realising that their films wouldn’t be able to attract the audience numbers they were used to, film production companies began to delay their new releases, putting them back for months—or even years.
One delayed film may not have made much difference, but when every production was put on the backburner, the immediate future of cinemas looked precarious.
The news that the release of the latest Bond blockbuster, ‘No Time To Die’, was to be put back to April 2021 seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Within days, one of the UK’s largest cinema chains, Cineworld, with more than 100 outlets, announced that they were closing…temporarily.
Streaming services like Netflix and Hulu absolutely sky-rocketed during lockdown. Of course, back in April, we had no choice but to watch the TV, given that practically all other avenues for entertainment were off limits. Once cinemas opened back up, however, the number of people flocking back to the flicks wasn’t a patch on what it once was. A lack of new films, and those that were new not exactly setting the world on fire, saw low visitor numbers to cinemas.
Netflix, on the other hand, has spent the last few years investing in its own productions. Cutting out the middle-man and becoming a film and TV production company in its own right, rather than simply a supplier of third-party productions, was a smart move for the company. With freedom to try new concepts and ideas rather than simply producing the next instalment of a franchise, Netflix’s productions have been lauded by both critics and the general public.
As I write, there’s not much of a battle between cinema and TV. Why would anyone want to pay almost a tenner each to sit in a sparsely-populated venue with a mask on for a couple of hours to watch an old or averagely-rated film when they could order a takeaway for the same price, sit in the warmth in their PJs, on their comfy settee, and watch the very latest blockbuster on their 55” telly?
It may be that, even when coronavirus-related restrictions are fully lifted, people won’t return to the cinema. Until the experience offers something different that will get people off their comfy settees, there’s no reason for them to bother.
Maybe this is why Cineworld have shut their doors. It may be, understandably, cheaper for them to close until the virus has run its course than pay their staff and cover the running costs to serve a handful of people every night. Or maybe this isn’t a temporary closure and they’ve seen the writing on the wall. The message being, despite being a form of entertainment since 1895, picture houses have had their day.
I used to enjoy taking my kids to the cinema when they were smaller. We saw every single Harry Potter film at the pictures when released. More than just going to the flicks to watch a film, we’d look forward to the next HP release like it was a huge event. These have become fond memories for our whole family.
Now my girls are adults, we’ve gone to see a number of ‘chick-flicks’ at the cinema. These were nice outings that we enjoyed, just the three of us (their father would have rather boiled his head than paid to see these films). They provided the opportunity for us to do something on our own, something girly, something that felt like a ‘treat’. Could we recreate a similar experience at home today? Sorry, but we probably could. The cinema is just a setting; we can still watch a film on Netflix or Amazon Prime. Spending the time together is the important thing.
No one knows what the future will look like after this virus has done the rounds. Cineworld is protecting its balance sheets and spiralling debt by pressing ‘pause’ on its day-to-day operations, which is fair enough (though I feel for the 5,500 staff who have to find other ways to earn an income in the interim). I hope cinema does return when the world goes back to normal, simply because so many things seem to have disappeared from our lives and I’m afraid that, otherwise, there will be nothing but work and sleep in our lives. We need forms of entertainment, something to look forward to. We need to escape what is otherwise just a daily grind.
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