With Disney+ predicted to overtake Netflix to become the biggest streaming service worldwide, and Covid-19 still forcing shifts within the industrial side of film, a question is becoming increasingly in need of an answer – what exactly is streaming doing to cinema?
Of course, as with any topic, the answer varies depending on opinion and perspective, but one thing is certain – cinema is rapidly changing. Streaming has to be the most hugely impacting addition to the cinema of the 21st century so far, alongside the appearance of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and their respective takeover of cinemas (which links to the same division between the cinemas and streaming services, as non-comic book films seem to struggle to keep up with Marvel and DC’s massive blockbusters). A gradual shift has been clear in the way that studios choose to work – leading back to the earliest blockbusters, studios started to move towards putting all of their cinematic eggs into one basket rather than giving medium budgets to a larger group of projects (in the hopes that the hits would cover any losses of more experimental efforts).
This was an approach that led to frequent losses, of course, but also to more experimentation, more films being produced and a wider range of genres on screen – a studio would be making a lowbrow comedy, an Oscar-baiting drama and a horror film all at once, whilst now studios focus on singular products. This makes flops more impactful (look at Warner Bros panic post-Batman Vs Superman for example), and streaming is seeing a shift back towards green-lighting smaller projects, having them run at the same time, but with the new attitude of trying harder to ensure that most of them are hits. Smarter marketing, growing audiences and, of course, Covid have all added to the incredible boom of streaming services, with Disney+’s growth clearly displaying a want for more.
Many fear the impact streaming will have on cinemas, and it becomes increasingly likely that cinemas will collapse under the pressure of Covid and the convenience of streaming. Cinemas were morphing before Covid, just as studios did, to accommodate the biggest hits at any one point, and now, without those hits to give them the boost they need, they may be crippled. Streaming is still growing exponentially, while cinemas remain closed – it could be the nail in the coffin, but cinemas have been the social hub of film since its inception, so it also seems likely that even if they become smaller for a while, they’ll eventually bounce back (in the same way vinyl has for music).
On a plus side, streaming certainly isn’t killing entertainment overall – in fact, it’s allowing more of it. Between the internet and streaming services, films of all budgets are back, and variation is thriving again (which was a problem within cinemas, for those who didn’t live close to an independent cinema, at least). To look to music again, the absence of live shows doesn’t mean the end of music, it merely means a change in the way that audiences engage with it, and so it seems unreasonable to blast streaming for bringing something new to film, though it is understandable that some are rejecting it out of a disdain for change. Just as digital cameras have caused controversy between members of the film industry for years, it seems that streaming will do the same – but either way, it has and will continue to hugely impact the way that audiences engage with cinema, for better or worse.
Disney+ announced they will be distributing Black Widow this Summer, avoiding cinemas – watch the trailer below: