A new survey puts to bed the argument that streaming is negatively impacting cinema attendance, so does the rise of studios such as Netflix and Amazon benefit film makers, and where is it all likely to lead?

It’s highly likely that you will have heard some of the chatter surrounding the results of a survey on behalf of the National Association of Theater Owners. The findings revealed that streaming services are not cutting into theatre attendance at all. The gist of it showed that people who saw nine or more movies at at the cinema in the past 12 months spent an average of eleven hours per week consuming streaming content. Compare that to the seven average hours of streaming content consumed by people who only went to the cinema once or twice in a year. So basically cinephiles like to see movies in a theatre and at home, and streaming offers them more of what they want.

Of course it has to be remembered that this is a snapshot of the here and now, and it comes to light just as Netflix announced that it is ramping up it’s movie making arm to supply 55 original films a year. However, are we really surprised at the results? The tentpole movies keep drawing people into theatres, IMAX is more appealing and offers a more rewarding experience than 3D ever did, plus many theatres offer premium seating and a good ‘going out’ vibe. The figures prove it, 2018 was a bumper year for ticket sales. With a willingness to embrace change and new opportunities the streaming and theatrical industry can work together to each others benefit, they share an audience that has bought into both modes of consumption.

Changing times in film and TV production

However, this is an industry in flux and this certainly isn’t the end of the debate. The most significant findings of the NATO study show that the real threat posed by streaming is to traditional broadcast television, and the days of the digital purchase/rental model such as iTunes could be numbered.

It can be argued that a shake up of the current state of affairs is overdue – studios prioritise productions that will (hopefully) deliver big ROI and theatres programme films that get bums on seats. The Netflix/Amazon model gives space to those productions that don’t fit the tentpole/superhero remit. Indeed many big names are turning to this alternative, Cuarón, Del Toro, Scorcese et al, all to produce varied and eclectic films. The other huge opportunity here is for up and coming directors, DOPs, screenwriters etc to hone their skills as more low and mid-budget features are being commissioned.

The New York Times has run an interesting profile of Netflix’s new movie chief Scott Stuber, who is set to elevate the streaming giants movie slate to the same level as it’s television output.

Whilst their TV output is a bit on the patchy side, Netflix still received 112 Emmy nominations in 2018, plus the company is unafraid of trimming shows that don’t perform. This revelation of their feature film ambition comes alongside the release of Alfonso Cuarón’s ‘Roma’ and forthcoming movies by the likes of Martin Scorsese, Guillermo del Toro, Noah Baumbach, Michael Bay, Steven Soderbergh and Dee Rees.

To be sure, a black and white subtitled film wasn’t of much interest to the distributors that Participant Media (makers of Roma) approached. Will that be changed by the fact that Roma is showing up on virtually every ‘best of’ list for 2018? Possibly not, as critical acclaim doesn’t necessarily equal bums on seats – or vice versa for that matter – Venom was absolutely crapped on by nearly every critic yet went on to turn a tasty profit as audiences kept on paying for tickets.

The scale of Netflix’s ambition eclipses the number of movies the major studios deliver, Universal is cited as releasing approximately 30 films a year. If the sheer number of films that they propose is impressive, the fact that they assign a budget of $200 million to some of those projects could put the cat amongst the pigeons. Another factor that must not be forgotten is that there is competition on the way from rival offerings from Disney, Apple, AT&T/HBO, Youtube and even Facebook. They know that the best way to survive and flourish is to create more original content, they certainly have the (admittedly debt based) cash to do so.

Are we at the beginning of a boom for film and TV production?

We will be sounding out exhibitors and visitors at the BSC Expo 2019 on the topic.