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No Zero Sum Game Between Streaming Services and Movie Theaters

Shira Petrack
March 14, 2022
No Zero Sum Game Between Streaming Services and Movie Theaters

Some analysts see the world as a set of zero sum games. This view holds that the expansion of e-commerce means the demise of brick and mortar stores; the growth of at-home fitness means that gyms will soon be obsolete; and the rise of streaming services means that the demand for movie theaters will disappear.

These voices grew especially strong over COVID. Many predicted that consumers would become so accustomed to shopping, exercising, and consuming entertainment from the comfort of their homes that they would no longer return to physical stores, fitness centers, and cinemas post-pandemic. 

We haven’t yet arrived to the post-pandemic era, but there are already promising signs that the predictions surrounding the extinction of gyms, stores, and theaters will not be borne out. We’ve covered the return of both fitness centers and physical retail extensively on our blog. Here, we dive into an industry with an even more controversial prognosis – in-theater entertainment. 

The Right Movies Still Draw Crowds

Movie theaters in general, and AMC in particular, may very well make a surprise rebound in 2022. As detailed in our latest report, AMC launched several innovative initiatives that are aligning the brand with current consumer trends. But there is also a more old-fashioned reason for optimism – people go to movie theaters to watch movies, and certain movies still have the potential to draw big crowds.  

COVID restrictions and concerns over health risks were not the only contributors to low movie theater attendance over the pandemic. Many release dates were deferred, and the lack of new movies – whether due to filming and editing delays or to an executive’s decision to wait for more favorable circumstances – kept people away. But that is changing in 2022 as numerous highly anticipated feature films, including a slew of DC and Marvel movies, are scheduled to come out this year.

The release of Spider-Man: No Way Home reveals the powerful draw the right movie has on audiences. The movie came out on December 16th, 2021, just as the Omicron surge was gaining momentum, but still managed to gross $260 million in North America on opening weekend. 

Foot traffic data confirms that AMC visits spiked as soon as the movie opened, peaking at a 1331.5% increase in visits on Sunday, December 18th when compared to a November 1st baseline. And visits were not just high over the opening weekend, the new Spiderman movie led a three-week surge in AMC foot traffic that impacted both weekend and weekday visits, despite the COVID wave that was sweeping the nation.

Robust Demand for Experiences

The Batman, initially scheduled for June 2021, was released in theaters on March 6th. It is still too early to assess the full impact The Batman will have on AMC visits over the next couple of weeks, but foot traffic for the movie’s opening weekend shows that despite the proliferation of stocked streaming services and fancy home entertainment systems, experiential movies still pull in large numbers. Visits to AMC locations during the movie’s opening weekend surpassed both 2019 and 2020 levels, when comparing foot traffic between the first weekends of March in 2019, 2020, and 2022. 

This is in line with the currently robust demand for experience. Two years into the pandemic, consumers know that they can obtain most services and products from the comfort of their homes, but certain experiences are only available by leaving the house. This is why successful malls are rebranding themselves as experiential, live-work-play hubs rather than as shopping centers. Shopping can be done online, but experiences can only be accessed in specific settings. And this is also the reason that consumers will continue going to theaters – where the big screen, surround sound, audience anticipation and excitement create an experience that is very difficult to recreate at home. 

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