Is Cinema Really Dying?

Molly Evans
May 21, 2019 · 6 min read

We are surrounded by screens. Look at yourself right now. You’re looking at a screen.

We have access to so many screens — screens of every size, from the 1-inch smart watch, to the mega 185cm curved screen TV. Are you bored? Simply open up your laptop,and for the price of one coffee (a month) you have access to every film and every episode of literally any show you want — just a click away.

Every person who owns any sort of electrical device also probably has a film streaming account — Netflix alone boasts over 148 million subscribers worldwide. How did we even watch films before Netflix was created? It’s undeniable that streaming websites are responsible for completely destroying the necessity of owning a DVD player, and have led to pretty much every DVD store closing in the span of a few years. Technology has provided us with endless entertainment, providing us fewer reasons to leave the house — with so much viewing at our fingertips, going to the cinema seems unnecessary.

It seems inevitable that cinema will go the path of printed novels or newspapers (down 4.4% in February 2019 alone, despite overall retail growth, with physical newspaper sales expected to decline by about 7% per year for the next five years.)

But is this really true? Is cinema destined for a slow and quiet death or, is it in fact, more alive and important than ever?

Reports of cinema’s death are greatly exaggerated (thanks Mark Twain)

There is lots of conversation that ‘the end is near for cinema. Go to the movies while there’s still time’. Despite a seemingly popular belief that cinema attendance continues to decline (based on a small straw poll conducted during my coffee shop shift one morning), this isn’t true. The mid-1980s saw a drop due to the introduction of video hire, but had recovered by 1988 and current attendance rates are now similar to those before the mid-80s decline.

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Rate and Frequency of Cinema Attendance: retrieved from ABS

So the numbers are showing that movie streaming hasn’t really impacted cinema attendance and so cinema isn’t vanishing, but I think quite the contrary, cinema is actually playing a more important role today than ever before.

Cinema is old school — not

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80s Vintage Cinema: retrieved from Google images

The whole concept of going out to see the ‘moving pictures’ may appear quite outdated — after all, we now do so many ‘outside’ activities from the comfort of our home — shopping, reading, listening to music, watching lectures …. The introduction of DVDs bought a real improvement in image quality and sound, which has continued to grow with digital, widescreen, high- definition TVs.

Cinemas have, however, tried to stay ahead, or at least keep up, by introducing larger screen and sound technologies, as well as offering experiences which it would be near impossible to replicate at home: intimate, personalised areas with better seats and a food and wine service, such as Gold Class and Director’s Suite. These premium services account for much of commercial cinemas’ growth, and they can deliver their premium entertainment much cheaper than competitors like musical theatre shows, stadium concerts and the biggest sporting events.

Hoyts Private Events and Screenings Advertisement: retrieved from YouTube

Cinemas also harness the power or their main competitors — online streaming. A recent study from EY Quantitative Economics and Statistics group, concluded that people who go to theatres frequently also watch more streaming content. I believe that this argument is the same with the music industry and the impact of digital streaming services like Spotify, however the industry of live touring is absolutely thriving and more special than ever! Cinemas have also managed to harness the benefits of online and mobile applications to communicate with actual and potential audiences to strengthen and deepen relationships.

So going to the cinema is now so much more than just watching a movie.

It’s not just a pastime — it’s an EVENT

Put on your comfiest clothes, hop in your car, drive to the venue, maybe grab some snacks or organise getting food with your friends around the movie. Going to the cinema is much more than a pastime — it’s an event. It gives you something to look forward to. (Maybe Greater Union were onto something when they rebranded many ‘Event’ Cinemas after 2009).

Our days are full of endless distractions. I bet you can’t quickly recall how many times you’ve checked your phone in the last hour, or mindlessly switched attention from one device to another.

Going to see a film is a set activity, which means that you have to set aside an hour or two of your day and completely focus on one task. Let your mind be focused on one thing for a prolonged period of time — I don’t know how often I do that in a day. Simply, it’s therapeutic. It allows your brain time to relax. PHD scholar and facilitator of cinema therapy group, Birgit Wolz notes that “cinema in therapy allows us to use the effect of imagery, plot, music, etc. in films on our psyche for insight, inspiration, emotional release or relief and natural change.”

It’s a chance to share

One of the key differences between trends in printed media and cinema is that cinema-going is most often a shared activity. The personal social interaction of simply sharing an experience with others is unbeatable and, even more important now, as it’s becoming more rare.

The way that social media has completely transformed our social circles is incontestable, and exciting. You’re able to make conversations with anyone, anywhere, at any time. But how often do we actually see people face to face now days? Recent academic research concluded that, simply, ‘social interaction has a significant role in improving the quality of life’. Having a physical connection with friends — with anyone really is more important now than ever.

It’s truly immersive

I don’t think I’ve ever watched a film on Netflix and haven’t caught myself looking at another screen aimlessly scrolling through a feed. What’s so special about going to the cinema is the experience. The experience of being surrounded by people with the same purpose for being where you are. The darkness of the cinema with subtle smell of the couple at the end of the aisle’s popcorn. You’re able to lose yourself in the experience. “There’s something magical that happens when a hundred or so strangers assemble in a dark room with a massive screen, throw back some popcorn, and become immersed in a story together. For two hours, we escape the harshness of reality and enjoy a story together.”

Then there’s the Surround sound — as simple as that. Unless you have the money to build a cinema in your house, the actual visual and sound that is created in a cinema is incomparable. An experience is one thing that technology will never be able to emulate. Which makes it even more important to right now in this day and age.

Cinema isn’t dead — long live cinema

In our world of every-developing technologies, screens seem to govern the navigation of every aspect of our lives and are increasing at a breathtaking rate. While technologies enable valuable interpersonal links, in many cases, the screens through which we access them truly ‘screen’ us from making crucial personal interactions. However, the original BIG SCREEN plays an increasingly important role in contemporary society.

I think Flavio Artusi, for Italics Magazine, sums up my thoughts perfectly:

“The movie theatre, the armchairs, the darkness, the sound system wraparound, the sound of the video projector, the silent and the emotional sharing, the whispers during the roll-in, the smell of hot popcorn are all things that we risk to lose and that future generations are unlikely to get to know.”

The cinema is an immersive, emotional experience that will never be able to be replicated by any device or streaming service — and is here to stay.

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