Cinema in a pandemic: recovery, platforms and alternatives

Until 2019, going to the movies was one of the main activities that Spanish society practiced in their free time. This follows from the last Survey of Cultural Habits and Practices, published in that same year and which estimated at 57.8% attendance at movie theatersbehind listening to music (87.2%) and reading (65.8%).

Yolanda (27 years old, Albacete) was one of those people who used to go often to enjoy the latest releases. “Before there was a lot, practically once a week, or if not once every 15 days”. But the COVID-19 pandemic changed his moviegoing habits. “Now I go much less, once every month or every twowhen there is a movie that I really want to see in the cinema”, he comments to DatosRTVE.

It’s not the only one. The latest data from Comscore -the company that since 2016 has been collecting information on attendance at movie theaters in Spain- confirm the setback of the industry: in 2020, more than seven million people went to see a movie on the big screen; in 2021, the figure was somewhat lower. In both cases, the number of spectators was not even half of the number reached in 2019 -16 million-, which was already the lowest year since 2016.

Although in 2021 there was no strict confinement, the curfew prevented on many occasions from going to the later sessions. What’s more, in the communities fell the weight of applying or not limitations in cultural matters. This was the case in Castilla-La Mancha, where the measures forced the closure of the rooms if a high level of COVID transmission was reached. “In addition, also it was a bit scary to get into such a small enclosed space even if you had the mask, ”explains Yolanda.

Falling collection and filming in suspense

The reduction in the number of spectators meant the inevitable crash in the volume of income: cinematographic premises went from raising more than 100 million euros on average to less than 50 million in 2020 and 2021, respectively. The sum of both periods did not even equal the profits of 2019, the year with the least profits until then.

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In the following graph, which shows the five highest-grossing films of the last six years, the magnitude of the fall is observed. In 2021, To all train Destination Asturias It was the film that grossed the most, about eight million euros. In 2018, perfect strangersand in 2016, Villaviciosa next doorwith similar benefits, are in the top 3.

maixabelwith nearly three million euros in revenue, was the fifth highest-grossing release of 2021. In previous years, except for 2020 with Agent Makey, no tape in that same position fell below five million.

Although these data became known later, it seems that film professionals thought twice about whether or not to start recording tapes in the midst of a pandemic. Shortly before the first state of alarm was decreed, a drop in monthly recordings can be seen. Is in april 2020 when notified of lowest number of filming: one, the documentary rebornby Lucas Figueroa.

As of May, when some provinces de-escalated and changed ‘phase’, the number of shoots begins to rise graduallyreaching 2019 quotas after a few months.

Movie theaters, depleted but on the way to recovery

In Spain there are several cinemas that, due to the pandemic, they took a while to reopen or they never did at all. The closures, both partial and total, affected big cities like Madrid, Barcelona or Sevillebut also to other points such as Logrono, Menorca, Las Palmas de Gran CanariaFuengirola or Valdepeñas, as reported by different sources to this medium.

However, it seems that the worst of the pandemic has passed, also for cinemas. This is stated by the Association for Media Research (AIMC), which points out that the movie theaters already operating are 95.5% -a total of 664- of those existing in 2019, when the last annual census was taken. The organization, furthermore, is optimistic, since this percentage could rise to 99.2% counting the “probably opening rooms” -the figure rises to 42-.

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The decline in the number of operating cinemas is accompanied by a download in the rooms and seats available to the public. The volume of seats is the indicator where the drop is most noticeable: it has gone from around 800,000 in 2015 to just over 750,000 in the last year. AIMC appreciates that this trend is only reversed in summer cinemaswith an average capacity of 579 seats compared to 203 conventional seats.

The sector, seeking a new impetus for the population to return to their premises, recovered the Film Festival with the formula ‘I’m going to the movies’. In its last edition, despite the fact that the price was higher than in other years (3.5 euros compared to 2.9 before), it lasted four days instead of three. The figures, as in other aspects, are not very high -they do exceed those of the beginning of this initiative-, and could mean the beginning of a return to theaters.

In that sense, the Ministry of Culture and Sportgiven that cinemas were one of the spaces most affected by limitations, especially capacity, it was activated in October 2021 more than ten million euros of direct aid to the rooms. So that “the habit of having access to a varied cultural offer that would not be carried out without this support, putting the survival of many of them at risk”, as stated in the Royal Decree in which the investment was approved.

The flight to the platforms and the start by the drive-in

Celia (26 years old, Madrid), who claims to go to the cinema at the same level as before the pandemic, clarifies that there was a time when he stopped attending. The reason was not in the restrictions due to the coronavirus -they did not affect her to a great extent because she usually goes alone to watch movies-, but in the lack of premieres and variety on the billboard.

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For that reason, a large part of society, especially during strict confinement, saw in the platforms of streaming an escape route to face the quarantine, with an offer is far superior to that of any cinema. Google Trends data shows a overwhelming boom in searches of this type of service during the first state of alarm, but especially since it began.

Both Celia and Yolanda admit to having practically all the platforms available. In Spain, according to Statista, in 2021 the most popular service was Netflixwith 78%, followed closely by Amazon Prime Video, while the one offered by Apple had the fewest subscriptions, with 10%.

Precisely because of the permeability that this type of platform has developed in our country, there are those who prefer enjoy the tapes from your living room even if you have to wait a while to disappear from the billboard. “Yes it is true that if it is not a special effects movie or something like that you say ‘This is to see it in the cinema‘, I wait for it to be released on some platform and I’ll see it”, admits Yolanda.

In addition to streaming services, another option that has gained momentum in recent months is the drive-in. AIMC collects that they have gone from being six before the pandemic to tenand that they have been favored by the fact of “meeting in the open air and the interaction between the attendees being minimal”.

However, the population expects normality also finally reaches the usual cinemas. “The truth is that the feeling of seeing a movie in the cinema, on the big screen, does not compare to seeing it on a computer at home, on TV or on your mobile.
I prefer conventional cinema a thousand times”, summarizes Celia.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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