In the entertainment industry, nothing is more disruptive than the streaming revolution. Once launched as a niche idea due to emerging innovations in internet connectivity, streaming is now everywhere. From Netflix to now Disney+ and even consumer tech giant’s Apple’s streaming service – called Apple TV+ — everyone is going digital for their content distribution. Naturally, this hurts the legacy entertainment business model of the box office.
Still, in recent years, I’ve supported the idea of the “physical” movie industry. While the box office from a technological standpoint is getting increasingly irrelevant, cineplexes provide something that streaming services can’t: a social experience. No matter how deeply entrenched we are in our smartphones, we’ve got to interact with people in real time. That supports the idea of a robust box office.
However, in 2019, that thesis is under serious threat. According to The New York Times, Hollywood released 58 franchise films this year. This includes the much-hyped (and subsequently much-criticized) Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. However, box office ticket sales have declined. According to Times’ contributors Brooks Barnes and Nicole Sperling:
Cue the sad trombone: Movie ticket sales in the United States and Canada will total roughly $11.45 billion for the year, a 4 percent decrease from 2018.
That preliminary estimate, released by Comscore on Sunday, took into account the $175.5 million collected by “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” (Disney) over the weekend. “Rise of Skywalker” got off to a soft start compared to “The Last Jedi,” which took in $220 million over its first few days in domestic theaters in 2017.
Is the box office dead? Maybe not quite yet.
Hollywood Needs Fresh Ideas to Spark Box Office
Clearly, the numbers that we’re seeing this year are incredibly disappointing. But do they suggest the demise of the box office? Here, I think we should consider the wider narrative.
While the big movie studios released content related to their top franchises, that by itself is no guarantee of success. For example, Paramount Pictures released Terminator: Dark Fate to less than thrilling results. Although I thought the film was surprisingly good for what it is, the audience may simply be tired of watching the same old crap.
That was especially the case with Star Wars. Watching it on opening night, I was incredibly disappointed. A mish mash of confusing, disparate parts, the film obviously relied almost exclusively on its marquee branding. And while it will be a financial success for Disney, it will probably fare worse in total ticket sales behind its two predecessors.
Nevertheless, the traditional movie industry offers a realistic path for recovery. To get there, though, Hollywood must concentrate on the whole package; that is, providing the experience and the content (product).
Otherwise, this crap show will continue into 2020 and beyond.