Think of going to a place with a group of strangers enjoying the moment and not bothering about the person whom you sit next to? This is probably only the case in a place of worship and at the cinema. Cinema is more like a place of social significance.
The cinema industry in the UAE has been growing at a steady rate over the last few years, aided by a growing population in the country, which comprises of more than 200 nationalities. Going to the cinema on the weekend or after work with friends and family is a popular activity, not just in the UAE, but also across the GCC, up until the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
The pandemic has challenged not only the global cinema industry but numerous other industries as well. With no vaccine to combat the virus, global travel restrictions, and salary cuts, we haven’t witnessed such large-scale disruption to the global economy since World War II.
When COVID-19 started to rapidly spread in March 2020, cinemas across the world were asked to close its doors until further notice. The closure made it a tough 3-4 months for the industry in terms of revenue, but when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade! Cinemas in the GCC kept their candy bars open for home deliveries – offering loyal patrons the option of munching on favourite cinema-eats while sitting on their sofa and watching movies at home during the lockdown.
A majority of cinema chains around the world are now gradually reopening its doors to cinemagoers, while practising the highest level of precautionary measures in place for the safety of audiences, such as contactless ticket and F&B booking system, temperature checks, placing hand sanitizer dispenses, limited seating to ensure social distancing and constant sterilization of the premises. All health and safety measures taken by cinemas have been in an attempt to ensure a safe and enjoyable movie experience for audiences and to restore faith in cinemagoers who are still reluctant to visit public spaces. My personal belief is that cinema occupancy levels will increase over time when more people start to accept the ‘new normal’ post-COVID-19.
In the wake of COVID-19 came the golden age of streaming services. Subscriptions of streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, and a variety of others are undoubtedly on the rise. Plus studios such as Disney have also launched their streaming platforms. But how will this affect cinema? Will streaming services outpace cinema? For example, we have a number of digital reading material available online, but there are still readers in this world who prefer buying a physical book to read instead. Likewise, no matter how many streaming services are made available, the cinema will continue to evolve and triumph. Cinema may lose some small budget movies to streaming platforms for now. However, blockbusters are the head turners and if not released in the cinema, studios will not be able to reap box-office collections because the revenue generated from streaming is nowhere close to the revenue from a theatrical release.
Watching blockbusters on the big screen is itself an amazing experience. For example, big-ticket blockbusters such as the latest James Bond title, No Time to Die, and the live-action remake of Disney’s Mulan have postponed their theatrical release dates, along with a number of other movies doing the same.
The fact that streaming platforms will affect cinema audience numbers is a myth. From my experience, I know people who have subscribed to 2 or 3 streaming services, but still prefer going to watch a movie at the cinema. Therefore, I believe that an increase in streaming platform subscriptions fronts no threat to the cinema.
I’ll conclude by saying that moviegoers are obsessed and adherent to the cinema, more than any other medium. Cinema will evolve and have a distinctive place in this world.