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Published May 27th 2020

New Research Spells Big Trouble For Movie Theaters

Bringing together social, search, survey, and sales data, we take a look at what the post-lockdown future holds for the movie theater industry

Despite the tough competition from streaming platforms and piracy, the movie theater industry has battled through a lot in recent years and continued to grow.

High profile releases boosted ticket sales to record breaking levels in 2019 and theaters continued to innovate with customer experience, offering ‘4D’ viewing options that bring elements from the movie (like wind and rain) into the real world.

One could argue that, despite the challenges, movie theaters were doing pretty well. But then 2020 happened.

Lockdown measures meant that movie theaters all over the world had to close their doors, and movie entertainment suddenly became an at-home-only activity.

The home cinema

Consumers responded to the stay home orders by streaming to the max, putting a real strain on bandwidth. They also set about creating and improving home cinema set ups.

Google searches for projectors in the US have climbed steadily over the last few months, seeing particular jumps at the weekend.

Search interest in 'projector' in the US

Source: Google Trends | Numbers represent search interest relative to the highest point on the chart for the given region and time

Meanwhile, English-language conversations on social media around DIY cinemas were up 94% in March and April compared to January and February, as people tried to replicate the movie theater experience at home, or in the backyard.

For many, these home cinema experiences have become a way to mark birthdays or anniversaries.

Home movie rentals

Of course, it’s one thing to organize a night in for a treat or to celebrate at your DIY cinema, but it’s another to find something which everyone wants to watch. For 12k authors we found discussing DIY cinemas, the answer is home rentals.

Total conversations around movie rentals in March and April increased 1696% compared to January and February, indicating that digital rentals are starting to fill a gap left by theaters.

And, according to the Wall Street Journal, it’s a smart move to bring recent box office movies direct to home rental. Trolls World Tour made more money in rentals than in five months in theaters.

The beginning of the end?

Temporary alternatives to the cinema experience may help keep movie lovers happy. But what about the longer term picture?

Using Brandwatch Qriously, we surveyed 9,069 people from Australia, China, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK, and the US through their smartphones and tablets.

We asked about how safe they’d feel visiting certain premises and businesses once lockdowns were lifted. They rated this from 1 (Not at all) to 5 (Very).

The results for the movie theater industry were not good.

30% of consumers chose ‘Not at all safe’ for cinemas, while just 14% of them consider cinemas ‘Very safe’. That could indicate a huge drop in footfall at cinemas, even when governments allow them to reopen.

People are investing in their home cinema set ups. Movie rentals and streaming are proving to be incredibly popular alternatives to visiting the cinema. And many people don’t feel confident about returning to cinemas post-lockdown for safety reasons.

None of this bodes well, and that’s before we think about the economic impact of Covid-19. Disposable income over the coming months is unlikely to be overflowing, particularly as more people move towards saving more money.

The movie theater industry is going to have to fight hard to win back custom. Customers will need reassurances around safety, and the experience needs to be good enough to tempt someone away from a movie on their own couch with their new surround sound system. The road ahead will be tough, but staying close to consumer preferences, needs, fears, and drivers will pave the way to winning them back.

With thanks to Leia Reid and Joshua Boyd for additional reporting

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