Does Marvel’s new emphasis on streaming content mark the approaching death of cinema?

Bailey Agbai explores whether the unstoppable mammoth of the streaming industry is going to lead to the death of cinema.

Over the past few years, the entertainment industry has succumbed to the ever-increasing emphasis placed on streaming content. In a clear response to Netflix’s meteoric rise to power, companies such as HBO, Disney and Amazon have all responded with their own rival streaming services. Disney’s service, Disney+, is home to many franchises and one of the biggest is Marvel Studios. The comic-based franchise is turning its attention away from big screen adventures such as The Avengers and Thor, and towards small screen entertainment available only with a Disney+ subscription.

Several series have been announced including Falcon and the Winter Soldier, focusing on the titular characters famous for their film roles, and the groundbreaking Ms. Marvel which will be the debut of Kamala Khan, a teenage Pakistani-American with superpowers. The only series to debut so far is WandaVision, an ambitious project focusing on Avengers Wanda Maximoff and Vision as they navigate a life seemingly dictated by dated television motifs. But why is one of the most popular film franchises, and the entertainment industry in general, switching to streaming?

The first reason for streaming’s rise to power is accessibility. Streaming has few or no physical requirements, but visiting a cinema requires travelling which is not always possible for viewers eager to popular and new films of the time. Streaming frees entertainment from the shackles of the singular big screen, and allows it roam free between a multitude of visual mediums including phones, televisions, laptops and game consoles. 

For Disney specifically, their short-term motivations behind launching Disney+ are certainly not related to profit, as it is estimated that it the service will only breakeven in 2024. On the first season of one of their flagship series, The Mandolorian, Disney spent over $100 million alone and currently show no signs of slowing down on investing in future content. However, by 2024, Disney hope to have between 60 and 90 million subscribers and to begin profiting off of their service.

As for consumers, cost has a lot to do with their seemingly undying support of streaming services. Streaming has seen the advent of ‘cord-cutting’: this involves consumers cancelling television contracts and switching to streaming services. For many consumers, opting for Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime subscriptions over TV contracts with companies such as Sky and Virgin can result in massive savings. 

Perhaps the most obvious, but very much unplanned, motivation behind streaming’s dominance within the entertainment industry is the pandemic. Countless lockdowns all across the world have trapped people in their houses and streaming services have offered some respite to the boredom being felt by many isolators. With this in mind, the pandemic has unsurprisingly been great for the streaming industry. At the height of the first UK lockdown, streaming was up by 31% whilst entertainment venues were closed. 

There is a lot of concern that the victim of our streaming habits is the cinema industry. Although cinemas and arts venues in general have suffered for the past year, streaming may only be set to damage the industry further. In terms of cost, streaming services offer a month of entertainment for the price of a standard cinema ticket. There are of course viewers who may feel as though they would be better of staying at home with an endless supply of streamable content, over having to leave the comfort of their homes to spend more money, during or even whilst in the aftermath of a global pandemic. 

However, there is also an aesthetic problem. If cinema were to die, a lot of films wouldn’t be experienced as they are supposed to be. The power and effect of to-be-released epics perhaps comparable to Dunkirk, 1917 and Avatar would be lost and redundant if only available on the small screen. Renowned director Steven Spielberg spoke out against Netflix saying, “Some of the greatest writing being done today is for television, some of the best directing for television, some of the best performances [are] on television today”, but that “there’s nothing like going to a big dark theater with people you’ve never met before and having the experience wash over you”. 

However, there is hope for the cinema industry. Figures from 2018 show that, in pre-Covid days, people who were subscribed to services like Netflix were just as likely to still visit the cinema as frequently as they streamed film and programmes from home. If this behaviour continues once the pandemic is over, perhaps there will be no need to worry about streaming’s adverse effect on cinema.

Ultimately, the death of cinema somewhat seems like the natural course for entertainment. In the aftermath of the pandemic, it is likely that the concept of sitting close to strangers in a dark room may feel unappealing to usual cinemagoers, and so naturally kill the industry. More importantly, the death of cinema wouldn’t only be the fall of an industry, but a serious setback for directors with big screen visions. Some films and stories simply need to be told on the big screen, and hopefully that will be enough to keep the industry afloat and deter viewers from completely abandoning cinema venues all across the world in favour of their televisions. 

Bailey Agbai is a final year English Literature student, Art & Culture Co-Editor for Warwick Globalist and Deputy Music Editor for The Boar.

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