Several weeks into the COVID-19 lockdown, with no clear exit strategy in sight, we’re all taking a moment to reflect on how the virus has affected our day-to-day lives. The luckiest of us have faced no greater hardship than having to work at home, grappling with cabin fever as we try to remain productive amidst the distractions of the home. Some of us may have faced significantly reduced income or even lost our jobs altogether. Some may have been affected personally by the virus of had people close to them affected by it. In these scary, uncertain and often tragic times, we can’t underestimate the power of our entertainment media to lift our spirits.
Stories can change lives, and even save them. While some may argue that our movies, TV shows, sports and games are nothing more than a distraction, they have nonetheless proven invaluable in restoring the world’s morale. But in the age of social distancing media production has largely ground to a halt and distribution and exhibition have changed exponentially in a short space of time. What does it mean for loves of cinema, TV and sports?
Let’s take a look…
Stream on… with caveats
It’s clear to see that streaming has increased exponentially since the worldwide lockdown was initiated. Streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+ have become our go-to source of refuge. Their vast libraries have given us thousands of hours of content. However, while this may seem like the perfect tonic, it has also created a specific set of caveats. Psychologists warn of the dangers of binge watching to which streaming services are all too conducive. As well as facilitating a more sedentary lifestyle, binge watching can negatively impact our mental health.
Despite the caveats, streaming films and TV shows is nonetheless a convenient model. It has also proven a ray of light to film studios whose plans for theatrical release have been scuppered by the outbreak. Universal, for instance, was the first studio to transition new films like The Invisible Man seamlessly from cinemas to streaming platforms. Indeed, the animated sequel Trolls World Tour has made more money via streaming than it ever hoped to make theatrically.
Bursting the soap bubble
All around the world people turn to soap operas for their daily dose of serial storytelling. Borrowing from the tradition of kitchen sink dramas of the 1950s, soaps have long given us a window into the lives of fictional characters whom we look upon as friends and neighbours. Speaking of Neighbours… the Aussie soap has stopped filming amidst the outbreak as have American soaps like Days of Our Lives (no, they didn’t make that one up just for Friends). In the UK favourites like Coronation Street are still filming for the time being but Eastenders over at the BBC has been suspended. The coronavirus has burst the soap bubble at a time when many fans need them the most.
Game of Postpones
Televised sports have been a heavy casualty of the virus and lockdown. Many sports fans around the would may wonder what sports are on in the current climate. Needless to say, the playing of live sports would not be permissible under lockdown. Already we’ve seen Australia’s test matches in Bangladesh in June postponed and FIFA have announced that international football may not resume until 2021. Sports aren’t really something that one can enjoy in a prerecorded state. It’s the spontaneity and lack of a predetermined outcome that make them so compelling. Hopefully it won’t be long until we know when sports fans can get their fix.
Death or rebirth? The state of physical media
We’ve talked a lot about streaming, and its benefits and caveats. One thing we haven’t considered is the strain that is placed on our broadband infrastructure with a populace both working from home and streaming content throughout the day and night.
Netflix has even issued warnings in some areas of Europe that audio and visual quality might decline as the platform struggles to cope with the surge in demand. For those who insist on watching their films in the best possible picture and sound quality, streaming has still yet to catch up with physical media. Even without the current bandwidth restrictions placed on many older infrastructures.
However, with retailers closed, will the COVID-19 outbreak represent the death or rebirth of physical media? It would seem that the jury’s out. There’s evidence to suggest that in some markets like the UK sales of DVDs, Blu Ray discs and 4K Blu Rays have actually increased despite the abundance of streaming platforms. However, with retailers like Amazon treating these items as non-essential consumers are going to have to wait a little longer for their discs in the current climate.
Still, for those who want a consistently high quality viewing experience (especially in 4K) physical media is the only choice.
Bye bye to the big screen?
As much as we all love watching movies at home, there’s really no substitute for the big screen. There’s an inherent romance that comes with the theatrical experience. All cinephiles have treasured memories of going to the movies throughout their childhood. The shared experience of watching films theatrically allows us to truly immerse ourselves in the movies. We’re more likely to give the films the attention they deserve because we don’t have an opportunity to check our phones or type out some notes on our laptops.
As such, despite the abundance of media to enjoy at home, we all sorely miss the theatrical experience while we’re on lockdown. Do we have any indication of when we’ll get it back?
That depends who you ask.
Various studios are moving their big tentpole movie release dates around in line with when they expect cinemas to reopen. Warner Bros. seem the most confident, moving their DC blockbuster Wonder Woman 1984 to mid August. Its competitors at Disney are proving somewhat more bearish, moving its equivalent superhero movie Black Widow to November.
The theatre chain AMC has publicly announced its hopes to reopen by mid June. However, this may be an overly optimistic ploy to appease concerned shareholders. Cinemas have been briefly reopened in some parts of China, but abruptly closed back down again due to the health risks.
Time will tell what the future holds, but hopefully this has proven an illuminating insight into the current state of how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the face of entertainment.