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How Hollywood Is Adapting to the Time of Coronavirus

The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has turned the entire world into a planet of hermits. People are self-quarantining themselves in their homes and avoiding public gatherings (the conscientious ones anyway). In many places, state and local governments have banned nonessential gatherings and businesses.

That’s bad news for many businesses, and among those hardest hit are movie theaters, which were already worrying about delays in major Hollywood releases. Regal was the first to close all of its cinemas nationwide, and AMC Theaters soon followed suit. AMC Theaters said its theaters would be closed for 6 to 12 weeks while Regal offered no timeframe. Frankly, anyone who gives dates is guessing, and there’s no reason to believe that any timeframe will be honored.

This might mark the end of many movie theaters. But movie theaters have been suffering for years. Many homes now have giant high-definition TVs, quality sound systems, and high-speed Internet. With an Apple TV, a 65-inch TV, and a surround-sound soundbar, you can have your own theatrical experience for under $700 (see my freshly updated book, Take Control of Apple TV for help, if necessary).

Let’s look at a few ways Hollywood is adapting to the new realities.

Blockbusters Going the Way of… Blockbuster

Don’t expect a summer blockbuster season this year. Pretty much every movie coming soon has been delayed. The latest James Bond adventure, No Time to Die, has been delayed until at least November. Disney’s Mulan and New Mutants have been delayed indefinitely, as has Universal’s F9. And even if those movies could be released, the theaters are closed. So the studios are getting creative.

Disney initially responded by moving up the digital release of Star Wars: The Last Skywalker by a few days. The company also dropped Frozen 2 on its Disney+ streaming service a full three months early. We expect more moves like this as the crisis rolls on.

Universal is making an even bolder move: skipping or cutting short theatrical releases of movies like Trolls World Tour, The Hunt, The Invisible Man, and Emma. As of 20 March 2020, those movies are available from Apple TV, iTunes, and all the other usual places. You can rent them for 48 hours for around $20, which feels pricey for streaming but is significantly cheaper than a typical family trip to the movie theater.

The major studios have contemplated such premium video-on-demand offerings for years, but such plans have never come to fruition. The prices floated in the past ranged from $30 to $50, so Universal’s pricing is much cheaper than expected. Independent studios have been offering theatrical rentals on iTunes for years for around $10, but Universal is the first big Hollywood studio to make this happen, and it’s setting a precedent for other big studios.

It didn’t take long for Disney to follow suit, with the company announcing that it would release the new Pixar film Onward to digital via Disney+ on 3 April 2020.

Movie Loaning via Movies Anywhere

Whether its launch was sparked by the pandemic or just a happy accident, the Movies Anywhere service is testing a movie loan feature that it calls Screen Pass. Movies Anywhere is the Disney-led service that lets you sync movie purchases from most of the big studios (see “Movies Anywhere Frees Your Films From Platform Lock-In,” 14 October 2017 and “Use Movies Anywhere to Take Advantage of Bargains,” 31 August 2018). Lionsgate, MGM, and Paramount still do not participate.

Movies Anywhere

The new Screen Pass feature is currently in closed beta, but it will work like this: you can share up to three movies from your library every month. The recipient will have 14 days to watch a shared movie, and once started, they’ll have 72 hours to finish it. Unlike similar services, you can still watch the film yourself, or even loan out multiple copies to other friends, as long as you remain under the three-movie limit.

Movies Anywhere says the service will open to the general public later this year. As Hollywood grasps at ways to stay relevant and survive the COVID-19 crisis, I expect that rollout sooner rather than later.

The COVID-19 pandemic has already changed the world in many ways. Borders are closing, more people are working from home, parents are being forced to homeschool, and the entire film industry is being upended. But at least there’s an infinite amount of escapist entertainment available for streaming, even without new movies coming out. And that’s good because Hollywood production has effectively been shut down thanks to the pandemic and California’s statewide shelter-in-place order. There may be no new movies or TV shows for a long time.

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Comments About How Hollywood Is Adapting to the Time of Coronavirus

Notable Replies

  1. Broadway is also adapting. I just heard about Broadway HD, a streaming service featuring a substantial library of performances of classic and contemporary plays and musicals. Comparatively speaking, it’s reasonably priced, and a year’s subscription will probably cost less than a single cheapest seat up in the bleachers of a Broadway theater:

    There’s a seven day free trial, and I’m going to check it out.

  2. Also check on the service Kanopy – its available on Apple TV, is free, works with your local libraries. It has a wide range of movies – limits you to 3 per month.

  3. The main draw of a Broadway play is the in-person experience. Streaming a play is no different than streaming a movie or watching it via DVD/BluRay without that experience. It may be that SARSCov2 could be the beginning of the end for live plays, concerts, sports, etc.

  4. Of course this is generally true, but it will be quite some time before Broadway or local theaters reopen. As I live in the US epicenter of the current pandemic, I’m glad to have another diversion, especially one that will enable me to see some shows that I love, especially musicals.

    A few weeks ago I watched a truly outstanding PBS broadcast of The King and I, one of my favorite Broadway shows since I was a kid. And I know the words to every song. I saw it live on Broadway twice, once when I was in high school, another in college, both with Yul Brenner as King. I also saw student and off Broadway versions. I can honestly saw that the PBS version I saw a few weeks ago was superior to any other version. PBS members can stream it from the website.

    The live versions of Peter Pan that I saw never came close to the 1950s TV version with Mary Martin and Cyril Ritchard, which is sadly no longer available. But I did watch the Sandy Duncan stream, and though the Mary Martin version it most certainly ain’t, I was still sorely tempted to clap my hands to keep Tinkerbell alive. Overall, it was still loads of fun in a world stuck in social isolation. And there’s a free trial for a week.

  5. Plays that have been made into movies seem better to me. I love “Paint Your Wagon” but was very disappointed when I saw the actual play on from which it was made. However, the movie “1776” was much more faithful to the play, probably because just about all the main characters were played by the actors who had the same role in the play. I agree with you on Mary Martin as Peter Pan; you can get it on DVD or BluRay from Amazon:

  6. An interesting sidebar to this discussion is the employment of VFX workers moving from NDA secured studio works to remote production at home and the advent of cloud based VFX works and render farms. Unions are bugging studios to relax the strict in studio only limits these NDA orders demand (loose footage sinks studios). I really hope we don’t become theater ghost towns, that this ‘pandemic recession’ is a severe wake up call toward the utility of the internet and the absolute necessity of art and engagement to maintain the health of communities. Plus more production and unionized oversight of workers.

  7. Lincoln Center At Home has started an every weekday live Pop Up Classroom for kids, featuring music, dance, theater, art, and even puppetry:

    For adults and older kids, streams of live chamber music concerts, As well as classical orchestral, jazz, dance, opera, contemporary and international music. There’s even a barre class for dancers and wanna bees:

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