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  • Writer's pictureAaron Fonseca

Surprising Data Suggests the End of Movie Theaters Is Closer Than Expected

Our latest Your Nerd Side with Fonseca:

A recent study on film viewing habits supports what many suspected all along — fewer people are going to the cinemas in favor of consuming content from streamers like Netflix.

IndieWire reports that 66 percent of American adults have chosen streaming platforms like Disney+ and Netflix over movie houses, which doesn't bode well for all theatrical-release films. Data from a HarrisX poll cites multiple factors for this preference, with many of the reasons rooted in convenience. The trend comes in the wake of a Hollywood that has just recovered from the union strikes and the pandemic. The survey also noted a significant shift in viewing habits; 30 percent of respondents said they only watch movies in theaters several times a year, but will likely stream the same movies up to three times a week. The study might explain why some film companies simultaneously launch their offerings in theaters and on streaming, or why others cap a film's theatrical run with an immediate streaming release.

HarrisX VP Alli Brady confirmed that "the competition continues between streaming services and the Hollywood engine." While this has been true for the industry ever since the rise of Netflix, it all came to a head with a perfect storm of circumstances. "While we still see evidence of loyal movie-goers in recent box office numbers, our study shows that 2 in 3 movie watchers prefer to stream movies at home," Brady continued. "Despite this causing some upheaval for the industry, it also means that the demand for content is only increasing – nearly half of consumers say they stream movies weekly, more than 7x as frequently as those who do so in theaters."

An Inconvenient Predicament

Those who favor the streaming platforms agree that the overall inconvenience of going to the theaters is the primary reason for the preference. 24 percent said they were just uninterested in going, while 23 percent cite sanitation and hygiene as their main concern. Audience distractions, travel inconveniences, film and seat selection, screening schedules, and inconvenient theater locations were also noted. Probably the most insightful trend in the study asserts that 52 percent of respondents prefer a maximum movie runtime of two hours, immediately disqualifying many recent films, even blockbusters like Dune: Part Two and Oppenheimer.

59 percent of those in favor of theaters cite that "the experience of watching movies on the big screen" still brings patrons in. Related trends support this: 47 percent say the theaters' sound systems factor in their decision, while 39 percent go to the cinema to escape from distractions at home. Others reveal practical reasons for the preference, such as the privilege of watching theatrical premieres and exclusives. Advanced viewing technologies like 3D, 4D, and IMAX formats were also listed. 26 percent said they prefer to watch movies with an audience, while 24 percent said nostalgia is the main reason for patronage. Long-running film franchises like Star Wars and Jurassic Park attest to this.

The HarrisX poll was conducted online over two days to more than 1,000 U.S. adult respondents.

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