No audience, no new film: the tragic winter of American Cinema


Sina Technology Zheng Jun from Silicon Valley
This is the darkest year for the American cinema industry. Before winter, the cinema industry has been chilling. Maybe, many cinemas can’t wait for next spring.
A movie theater with few doors
Driving is rare this year. Because of the Xinguan epidemic, I have been staying at home for the past six months. I should have gone to have my car serviced. I have been too lazy to go out. Finally, I decided to go to a 4S store. Different from the previous need to make an appointment many days in advance, this year’s maintenance does not need to queue up at all, and the attitude of the car shop staff is also quite friendly. Asked about the passenger flow and sales volume this year, he laughed bitterly behind his mask and said, “today is a special year, isn’t it? At least we’re still working. ”
It takes a few hours to maintain the car, just to go to the next cinema to see a movie. I wanted to see a movie for a long time. I was waiting for the release of Nolan’s new film “creed”. Because after a full seven month hiatus, Silicon Valley’s Santa Clara County cinema was not allowed to open until the end of October (the San Francisco Bay area is particularly strict, and cinemas in other areas have been allowed to open at the end of August). However, the local government has also set strict restrictions: only a quarter of the audience can enter each show, and masks must be worn throughout the venue; cinemas must be disinfected between each session, and food and drink are not allowed to be sold.
I went to the cinema for the first time this year, and the places I used to know are very strange now: there are about ten cars in the parking lot where hundreds of cars can be parked. There is no one at the gate of the cinema. It is particularly appropriate to use the word “door is empty”. Push the door into the ticket hall, the huge lobby only see three staff. The stand selling popcorn, hot dogs and coke in the middle of the hall was completely closed. Only one of the seven or eight ticket windows is open. According to the epidemic prevention process, the conductor with the mask first asked me if I had any symptoms of new crown recently and whether I had a new crown test. After getting a negative answer, he took my temperature and then started selling tickets.
Nolan’s films deserve the best visual sound, and the XD screen costs $14.25. The conductor turned around the ticket screen and asked me to choose my own seat. Originally, there were no fixed seats in American cinemas, and the audience went in and sat freely. Now, fixed seats are obviously to separate the audience. But that doesn’t make sense, because the movie has five minutes to go, and only two seats have been sold in the finale. In order to ensure that they are not exposed to the virus, the cinema does not even give paper tickets to the movie, so you can buy tickets directly inside. The whole movie lasted two and a half hours. I couldn’t see what the other two viewers were like. At least I wore a mask and washed my hands with disinfectant.
After watching the movie, it’s getting dark. The parking lot outside is still cold and clear. In the past, Friday evening was the peak time for watching movies. The weather has turned cold, this scene is a bit bleak, slightly sad. Cinema is undoubtedly one of the industries hardest hit by the new crown epidemic; in this special year, the cinema line seems to have fallen directly into the ice cave from the prosperous year of 2019. In more than half a year, they were unable to open business, basically no income. Even if it is reopened, it is still languishing and there is no hope of improvement for the time being.
This article is not a film review. It is not intended to say too much about the film itself. Director Nolan is famous for playing with the timeline, deconstructing and Restructuring normal stories over and over, but the creed seems a bit too confusing. Although his film has to brush a few more times to really understand, but no longer interested in watching it a second time. The film scored 71% on rotten tomatoes and 76% on viewers, far below the 90% rating of previous masterpieces. In the Chinese market, the Douban score of the creed is only 7.8, which can only be regarded as the moderate level in Nolan’s works.
It’s like closing the door in disguise
The winter of American cinema began at the end of March this year. With the outbreak of the new crown epidemic, the United States has shut down homes, cinemas, gyms and other indoor commercial places have become the focus of epidemic prevention, only complete closure of business and rest, staff temporary unpaid leave. Cinemas in China were closed at the end of January and opened one after another at the end of July. Cinemas in the United States closed from the end of March to the end of August, and areas like Silicon Valley even closed until the end of October. For more than half a year, AMC, Regal, cinemark and other Dalian lock cinemas in the United States have completely run out of food, and only those car theaters operating outdoors can still play some old movies.
How bad is this year for the American film industry? According to comScore, box office receipts were $8.4 billion in the first three quarters of last year and $2.05 billion this year. Last year, the U.S. box office grossed $11.4 billion. This year, it may be only $3 billion, and most of it came from the booming first quarter. The total box office is expected to be less than $1 billion in the fourth quarter of this year for the Christmas schedule of previous hot seasons. In the first month (from the end of August to the end of September), the box office revenue of the entire North American region was only $124 million.
The dismal box office is obviously due to the new crown epidemic. Although the cinema has taken measures such as limiting the number of people and strictly disinfecting after reopening, it is still unable to call back the lost audience. According to a survey at the end of September, only 22% of viewers would like to go back to the cinema. Michael Pachter, an analyst at wedbush, believes that “the cinema industry cannot fully recover until consumers are really comfortable going to the cinema. This means that unless the vaccine is really popular, it will not be possible to return to normal, which may take until April to July next year. ”
However, it is not only the cinema that has been hit hard by the epidemic. They had to wait half a year before they were allowed to open their business. They were only allowed to enter a quarter of the venue. They were not allowed to sell food and drink. This kind of regulation made them feel miserable. Make complaints about the popcorn, “Prueyard Cinema manager Orlov (Dan Orloff)” said on the Internet, “there is no new movie to be released, the number of people is strictly restricted, and the popcorn Cola is not allowed to be sold. This situation is equivalent to a disguised US closure.” (Cinema) However, the epidemic prevention regulations only prohibit the sale of food and drinks in the indoor hall, and the cinema simply sells them in the open air at the gate.

Popcorn and coke are the lifeblood of cinemas. Statistics shows that the box office revenue of American cinemas in 2018 was $10.36 billion, while that of food and beverage was $5.64 billion, which was more than half of the box office revenue. AMC, the largest U.S. cinema chain, reported $780 million in box office revenue and $420 million in food and beverage revenue in the third quarter of last year. Moreover, compared with the box office revenue that needs to be halved with the distributor, the low-cost and high-priced popcorn Cola hot dog chips are the main source of profit for the cinema. A big coke costs $8. That’s what keeps the cinema alive.
It’s hard to attract audiences without a new film
But the most chilling thing about cinema is that there is no new film. Due to the late opening of the new blockbusters, only the new blockbusters, such as “Black Panther” and “Black Panther”, were allowed to be released again at the end of May, so only the old movie theaters were closed. These old films that can be seen on streaming media are obviously not attractive to the audience. The only movie that really counts as a blockbuster is Nolan’s new film, creed, released in the United States on September 3. Because of the epidemic prevention and control measures, cinemas in the Silicon Valley region did not open until the end of October, and now they are in intensive gear arrangement.
What makes the cinema worse is that even if they are open, they are also facing the embarrassing situation of no film to put. The new film became Waterloo. The new mutants, a new marvel film, was released at the end of August after five changes, making it the first blockbuster to reopen the cinema. The movie has a budget of nearly $80 million. As a result, due to the epidemic, the box office at the opening weekend was only $7.04 million. As of last week, the total box office in the United States was only $23.7 million. The blood loss is a foregone conclusion.
The real blockbuster “creed”, which theaters are looking forward to, has no cost Savior. Perhaps the film itself is not good enough, perhaps the audience is still afraid of the virus, Nolan’s new film did not bring the cinema much-needed box office revenue. The North American box office revenue of the creed’s premiere weekend in early September was only 20.2 million US dollars, far from meeting the previous expectations. It was only a fraction of Nolan’s previous blockbusters. Batman: the rise of the dark knight was $160 million at the opening weekend in North America. As I saw on Friday afternoon, an annual blockbuster has only three audiences. The attendance rate is really disastrous. 45 dollars may not be enough for the cost of the venue.
As there is no new film to be released, the annual blockbuster “creed” can only be put on sale from the beginning of September to now, and it is estimated that it will be arranged until December. Worried about the loss caused by insufficient box office revenue, the film company has postponed the release of dozens of films this year, and some high-profile blockbusters have even postponed several times in succession. Warner’s “magic woman 1984” has been postponed to the Christmas season at the end of the year, and films such as 007: no time to die and black widow are directly postponed to next summer. “Journey of the soul” in November and “sand dune” and “magic woman 1984” in December will be the last expectation of the cinema.
Under the attack of the new crown epidemic, the cinema line and the film distributors seem to have fallen into a vicious circle: if there is no blockbuster, the cinema will have no box office, and the cinema box office will be dismal, which makes the filmmakers unwilling to provide blockbusters. Of course, that’s understandable. Considering the high production and publicity costs of blockbusters, the box office must get nearly twice the box office revenue to break even. After deducting the tax from the box office income, theaters and distributors are roughly divided into half. Before the epidemic, several blockbusters often invested hundreds of millions of dollars. In the current market situation, putting offline cinemas is equivalent to losing money directly.
Hanks was heartbroken
This seems to have become a strange circle of “chicken or egg first,” lamented Mr. pachett, an analyst at wedbush. But in such a stalemate, the cinema line is undoubtedly the most hurt. At the beginning of last month, Regal, the second largest cinema line in the United States, announced the indefinite closure of all 536 cinemas in the United States (totaling more than 7000 screens), and 40000 employees were laid off again, less than two months before they opened in mid August. Regal didn’t go bankrupt, it just went out of business, but they didn’t set a specific time to reopen.
The last straw that overthrew Regal was the postponement of the 007 film, which was released in November, which eventually led Regal’s parent company cineworld to give up. “It’s not an easy decision, we’ve done everything we can to make sure it’s safe to reopen,” cineworld CEO MOOK greidinger explained. But the new crown epidemic makes the operating environment of cinemas increasingly difficult. ” Even AMC, the largest cinema chain in the United States, has repeatedly issued financial warnings, fearing that cash flow will run out by the end of the year. The financial situation of some small theaters may be even worse.
The cinema line was so anxious that the film side was helpless. In September, shortly after U.S. theaters reopened, Disney announced that it would reschedule 10 upcoming films, including Steven Spielberg’s remake of the west side story, which will be delayed for a full year to December 2021, as well as Marvel’s black widow and eternal.
During the epidemic period, many popular blockbusters directly gave up offline opportunities and switched to streaming media platforms. “Hamilton,” Disney’s $75 million musical, also gave up its offline release and went straight to Disney + this summer. However, Disney is not willing to give Liu Yifei’s “Hua Mulan” at a loss on the streaming media platform, and decides to provide “Hua Mulan” on the Disney + platform at a high price of $30 (which is already the price of two or three offline movie tickets). The original Thanksgiving release of Pixar’s new animation, soul, has been changed to play on Disney + during Christmas.

In June, Sony sold Tom Hanks’ World War II anti submarine blockbuster Grey Hound to Apple TV + for $70 million. Tom Hanks was very frank and said he was “heartbroken” to learn that his Screenwriter’s work had been sold to Apple TV +. Although Hanks admits that streaming media platform can let more audiences see his films, he also has a huge regret. “I don’t want to make apple unhappy, but I have to admit that the visual and sound effects of this movie are totally different when viewed in the cinema and on TV.” The film has a budget of only $50 million, mainly because Hanks’s income is tied to box office dividends, and now selling it directly to the streaming media platform is equivalent to his heavy losses.
Streaming media platform
This year is undoubtedly the year of disaster for the cinema line, but the year of the outbreak of streaming media platforms. Netflix, Amazon, Disney, HBO, apple, Hulu and other major streaming media platforms are seizing the opportunity to expand their content and expand their user base. Most of these streaming media platforms are backed by some of the world’s richest Internet giants. They have enough budget to buy new films. In addition to paying $70 million for Grey Hound, apple even considered offering 350-400 million dollars for 007: no time to die.
The epidemic home has made the streaming media platform the only choice for the public to watch the film. Netflix has added more than 28.1 million new users this year, with a total of more than 190 million users. Amazon Prime had more than 150 million video members in the second quarter of this year. By the end of the third quarter, more than 73 million paid users had paid for Disney’s Disney + which had been released only one year ago, making it the biggest highlight of Disney’s financial report due to the huge loss caused by the epidemic.
Faced with many uncertain factors of the new crown epidemic situation, the film side has gradually changed its previous position and is willing to sell the new film to the streaming media platform at a reasonable price to recover the cost and keep its own cash flow. If such a blockbuster as the Greyhound is still the case, it is even more difficult to hope for a low-cost movie. The movie “the love birds” had a budget of $16 million and was originally scheduled to be released in April. Paramount saw the epidemic and sold it to Netflix. It was released online in May, which was the most watched film of Netflix in the week of May 22.
Although the visual and sound impact of cinemas can not be replaced by streaming media, if the epidemic continues and no audience enters the cinema for viewing, then everything will be meaningless. More and more severe epidemic situation makes film factory lose patience gradually. As more and more films are postponed to 2021, the competition for box office of next year will become more intense. Even next year, the cinema will return to normal traffic completely (which depends on the effectiveness and popularity of vaccines), it may be difficult for film makers to obtain the box office revenue previously expected.
The U.S. epidemic has entered its 10th month, but the situation is getting worse and worse. In the past week, the number of new cases per day in the United States has exceeded 100000, even reaching a new record, and the daily death toll has exceeded 1000. California, Oregon, Washington state and other regions began to take epidemic control measures again. The Santa Clara County Government in Silicon Valley ordered a new ban on indoor business on Tuesday, with cinemas that had just opened two weeks ago to close again.
Although Pfizer’s and Modena’s phase III clinical trials of the new crown vaccine are both more than 90% effective, it may be at least a few months before the vaccine is truly universal. In addition, the United States also has a large number of anti vaccine, refused to vaccinate the ultra conservative population (religious conservatives even resist measles vaccine), which means that the virus may continue to spread or even new variants appear. This winter, the United States will usher in a new crown and flu epidemic double hit, cinema is obviously the most popular business places. Maybe many cinemas will not last until next spring.
The National Association of theater owners predicts that if the current situation continues, nearly 70% of small and medium-sized cinemas in the United States will go bankrupt.