Are we witnessing the death of the cinema?

WarnerMedia shocked the industry and has been getting severe pushback since it announced its plan to remove the “theatrical window” in 2021. In industry speak, the window is the period in which theaters can show a movie before it becomes available for broadcast or streaming. Over the last few decades, there have been several changes in the cinema industry. Drive-ins died out. Small cinemas with only a few screens have shuttered doors as theaters with more, and larger screens have moved into shopping malls, or their own, large venues in strip malls. But malls are dying in the US. With the death of the mall and the proliferation of cheap, high-end TVs and audio systems in homes, cinemas were already facing an up-hill battle. With the global pandemic, all but the largest cinema chains are likely to die this year. But even those large chains are in trouble. With Warner making its entire 2021 catalog available for streaming at the same time as theatrical release, we might be seeing the final nail in the coffin. None of the other studios are likely to follow suit this year, but if Warner’s move works out, they all will in 2022. It will probably take 5 or more years for this to play out, but I can easily envisage the slow death of the remaining major cinema chains, and a resurgence in small-town cinema, primarily targeted at true cinema mavens.

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