People Sure Do Like Streaming From Home

Watch out, movie theaters!

Key Takeaways

  • A Hollywood expert thinks consumers will continue to prefer streaming for its affordability and convenience.
  • Stay-at-home orders caused studios to release movies on streaming platforms immediately.
  • A poll from The Drum and YouGov shows people will continue to keep up their streaming habits in the next few months.
Someone streaming a movie while wearing headphones in the bed at night.

JGalione / Getty Images

Even as more Americans become vaccinated and start to explore the world beyond the couch, it looks like we’re not ready to ditch streaming TV and movies just yet.

According to a report from the Motion Picture Association released in March, online video subscriptions passed the 1 billion mark in 2020 for the first time. A J.D. Power survey shows that American households had an average of four different streaming subscriptions in December—up from three in April 2020—and were spending an average of $47 per month.

But while public spaces like movie theaters are reopening, one Hollywood expert thinks that consumers will prefer continuing to stream movies after the pandemic.

"We are in the beginnings of a 'great rebalancing,'" Gene Del Vecchio, adjunct professor of marketing at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, told Lifewire in an email.

"Consumer[s] will initially jump to theaters to re-experience the environment, but soon thereafter, the convenience, cost savings, and studio streaming-only launches will take over, and [people] will be visiting theaters less often."

Putting Movies on Streaming Platforms

One of the most notable changes over the past year was how studios released movies. About 54.6% of the biggest 185 films of 2020 were released on streaming platforms only—a significant change—according to UCLA’s latest Hollywood Diversity Report, released in April.

"The pandemic merely accelerated mega-trends that were already underway," Del Vecchio said. "It probably fast-forwarded the industry by five years. Studios will put far more resources, money, and people in their streaming platforms because that is the future of the business."

We are in the beginnings of a 'great rebalancing.'

Studios released a number of movies directly to streaming platforms in 2020 due to the pandemic. For example, Disney+ released its highly anticipated Mulan remake to stream on September 4 at a $29.99 price point.

Trolls World Tour, the family-friendly movie from Universal Pictures, even made more money in three weeks via streaming platforms than the original Trolls movie did when it was in theaters for five months, the Wall Street Journal’s Erich Schwartzel reported in April 2020.

"Studios learned that ownership of a streaming platform can generate more revenue through subscriptions than they can gain through the theater box office," Del Vecchio said.

Maintaining Streaming Habits

There is some evidence that people plan to keep up their streaming TV viewing habits. In an April 21 poll of 1,200 adults conducted by The Drum and YouGov, two-thirds of the participants said they would keep their TV streaming levels steady over the next three months.

Plus, 13% expected to increase their streaming.

The extent to which new movies will drop onto streaming platforms immediately—versus going to the theater first—is an issue on its own and largely depends on studios’ decisions.

We’ll still have plenty of releases streaming for the rest of the year, especially since Warner Bros. is releasing all of its movies via HBO Max the same day as in theaters until 2022. But the popularity of streaming could have a more significant effect on the industry.

A teen laying in bed watching a movie on a tablet.

FGTrade / Getty Images

Screen Daily’s Jeremy Kay points out that it appears that the exclusive window for when movies are available in US theaters appears to be shortening, in general. 

Will We Go Back to the Theaters Like Before? 

So, will we go to the theater again after the pandemic? 

In Del Vecchio’s view, people initially will be eager to get back to the movies as restrictions are lifted, but then visit theaters less often and prioritize these outings mainly for the biggest blockbuster films.

One reason is cost—a traditional movie outing might cost a family of four upwards of $80, which is more than the $20-$30 fee for watching via a streaming platform, he points out.

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