Why Cinema Will Thrive and How It Can Amplify Its Strengths for a Post-Pandemic Future
The COVID-19 crisis marks a watershed in the trajectory of numerous industries; cinema is no exception. This unrelenting virus has left the world with a collective sense of uncertainty, leading many of us to question whether the world we knew will ever be the same. It is an ostensible reset — a Year Zero, if you will — that suggests change is just around the corner.
The pandemic gave me the opportunity to reflect on the state of our world and where we might be headed. I felt compelled to consider my own industry, to ask tough but necessary questions, namely how cinemas would bounce back after the COVID crisis whose long-lasting impacts were irrefutable — not to mention irreversible. If there’s anything I’ve learned from heading The Boxoffice Company — a brand bolstered by its one hundred-year-old history — it’s that forging ahead into the future begins by taking a discerning look into our past.
Since its inception, cinema has lived through a myriad of historic catastrophes. I was determined to ensure that COVID, however devastating, would be just another in a line of challenges this industry would overcome. I spent months mining historical parallels which eventually gave way to “Hollywood Année Zéro,” a book I wrote to address, among many topics, four key factors behind cinema’s success in the past — and more importantly, its future.
This past October at CineEurope in Barcelona, Europe’s foremost cinema convention, I was invited by UNIC to talk about my book and share key takeaways from the pandemic. I came up with the mnemonic, “S.T.E.P. Up,” to synthesize where I felt cinemas could afford to innovate in the wake of the pandemic. These areas are: Shared experiences, Technology, Education, and Play.
Cinema is about more than just moviegoing. It’s an unparalleled combination of an intimate and communal experience. Cinemas leave viewers feeling a deeper connection to those who’ve shared in the moviegoing experience, and this connection engenders a viewer-community that, after a year of isolation, is buoyed by a sense of togetherness.
Cinemas should avail themselves of this opportunity by providing experiences that appeal to viewers who are longing to come together. And while a higher expectation creates a greater challenge for the exhibition industry, cinemas can pursue new modes of sharing, exchange, interaction, all that — in short — benefits us in being together.
Cinema is, at its very core, a technological innovation. More than a century ago, Auguste and Louis Lumière, manufacturers of photography equipment, invented the Cinématographe. It was a revolutionary camera and projector that made the first leap from static to moving pictures. Innovation has been in the DNA of cinema since its inception.
Leveraging innovation, whether that is the inception of sound in the 1920s or the emergence of the multiplex model in the 1980s, is the antidote for unforeseeable crises — all of which cinemas are susceptible to. The biggest question ahead of us is: What can cinemas do to stay as technologically relevant in the 21st century as they were in the 20th?
Cinema has some time to catch up and reap the benefits of a digital economy it has disregarded for far too long. It will have to be connected to a digital and mobile world, upstream, downstream and perhaps even — in very particular cases — at its very heart, prioritizing interaction and personalization.
The COVID crisis has made a considerable impact on education. As a result, we have seen a huge boom in the adoption of online-education. Products like MasterClass, whose valuation tripled in a single year to nearly $3 billion dollars, are making education accessible with more than just a digital platform but by linking learning to entertainment.
Cinemas generally oscillate between 15–20% occupancy. This may come as a shock to those outside the industry, but for experts it’s become so commonplace that many fail to challenge it. Cinemas have an opportunity to contribute to online education, remote learning, and even the future of EdTech.
Auditoriums can act as lecture halls for the public and provide an accessible space where learning is both captivating and fun. Naysayers may argue there’s nothing new to it, that auditorium rentals have existed forever, but one of the many intimations the pandemic has left in its wake is that business models are ripe for disruption and reinvention — hence the meteoric resurgence of food delivery platforms and even QR codes.
We’ve entered an age of entertainment coalescence; we can listen to books, play movies like video games, meditate on Netflix, and watch streaming content in movie theaters. Competition is no longer endemic. That means that while Disney+ may be Netflix’s direct competitor, so are Audible, Spotify, and PlayStation. All forms of entertainment are reimagining their formats to fit ever-changing demands.
Cinema has an equal opportunity to participate in this evolution. There has always been a dialogic relationship between cinema and other forms of entertainment. For decades, cinema, music, and literature have mutually benefited from one another (consider soundtrack albums, book-to-movie adaptations, and in rarer cases, movie-to-book adaptations). These pieces of entertainment inform their culture which, in turn, steers how entertainment evolves. While video games, internet-culture, and short format primarily capture the attention — and the time — of today’s young viewers, cinema has historically found ways to collaborate with all forms of entertainment.
Over the course of 2020, many of us yearned for a return to normalcy. Coincidentally, “Return to Normalcy,” was a slogan popularized by U.S. President Warren G. Harding following World War I, at the dawn of the Roaring Twenties. The years that followed were defined by more than normalcy; it was an era of cultural dynamism, novelty, and overall high-spiritedness.
As we turn the corner on a profound historical moment of our own, there’s no doubt that entertainment will play a pivotal role in the optimism and originality of the 2020s. For those looking to reimagine a cinema of the future, check out my book, “Hollywood Année Zéro” (currently published in French). In the meantime, I’ll be working with Boxoffice Pro’s Editorial Director, Daniel Loría, on “Hollywood Year Zero,” an English adaptation that should hit U.S. shelves in the coming year.