Hollywood’s Recovery, Live Events in the Covid Era and Microsoft

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Kara Swisher. | Courtesy Photo.

Will the premiere of the 25th James Bond movie, “No Time to Die” — delayed since last year because of the Covid pandemic — result in big ticket sales for the much beleaguered movie theater industry? So far, demand for the film is tracking well in presales — and in excitement — which is in fitting with an overall upward trend in ticket sales since they sank at the start of the pandemic.

While theater sales are still not close to prepandemic levels, movie houses are recovering. “No Time to Die” opens in Britain this week and in the United States on Oct. 8. And next month is analog’s best hope at a full recovery, with a series of tentpole movies that could stanch the loss of consumers to streaming. They include “The Many Saints of Newark (Oct. 1), “The Addams Family 2” (Oct. 1), “Halloween Kills” (Oct. 15) and, perhaps most anticipated of all, “Dune” (Oct. 22).

Those all look like pretty decent movies. But I will not see any of them in the theater, as I would have two years ago — except one. That would be Bond.

I am a crazy fan, and it’s hard to imagine seeing it first on a small screen, even knowing I will later watch it over and over on a small screen, as I still do with all of them. Thus a trip to the theater for Bond is, as I like to say now, Covid-worthy.

While I am vaccinated, wear masks and get tested regularly, my new way of thinking about a trip to the theater — is the film Covid-worthy or not? — takes its cue from “sponge-worthy,” an old “Seinfeld” trope. (To put it briefly: Elaine had a limited supply of birth-control sponges, and choices had to be made.)

Is the movie good enough that I want to take the very small risk of getting a breakthrough infection? Many other consumers are making a similar calculation as more entertainment becomes available to stream at home — and as we get more comfortable watching in our living rooms.

In an interview with me this week, the Netflix co-chief executive Ted Sarandos gave a flat “no” when I asked whether he was interested in buying a movie theater chain to help with distribution.

Actually, Netflix already has two theaters — one in New York and one in Los Angeles — that the company uses mostly for premieres and showcases. And to Sarandos, theater releases are all for marketing. Moviegoing “will be less frequent, maybe more expensive,” he said. “Using it as an event to get out of the house — people are still going to be looking for that.”

He added that some movies will be hard to book in theaters; for the most part, only franchise movies will be able to sustain the ever-smaller industry. “There’s less room for character-driven drama at the theater,” Sarandos said. I could not agree more, even though Hollywood still seems to be resisting the trend toward digital, just as it once resisted Netflix itself. (Jeff Bewkes of Time Warner famously once called Netflix — in an inexplicable metaphor — the “Albanian Army.” )

Well, now that the big studios and entertainment companies have embraced most of the economics and practices of Netflix, I suppose they are all Albanian.

Kara Swisher is the host of “Sway,” an Opinion podcast, and a contributing writer. She has reported on technology and technology companies since the early days of the internet.

KARA SWISHER | Guest Columnist

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