This past year has been a royal mess of a dumpster fire. No one is going to remember 2020 fondly. A pandemic mishandled by many governments. Far too many beloved celebrities passed away. The American election just. Would. Not. End. Really, if an election lasts more than four weeks, consult a constitutional expert. There have been bright spots, such as the return of Animaniacs and Spitting Image, but those seem few and far between.
Next year, 2021, has some hope to it. There is a vaccine for COVID-19, though it may take until September to finish vaccinating the populace. The US may have a functional president in the New Year, though the UK is still stuck with Boris Johnson. The New Year isn’t going to be an immediate panacea for 2020.
Movie studios are preparing for an extended period where theatres are either in lockdown or audiences are avoiding potential contact with others. Warner will be releasing all of their films, including Dune and The Matrix 4 in theatres and on HBO Max. Disney has done the same, with Hamilton, Artemis Fowl, and Soul moved to forthcoming to Disney+ exclusives and has already released the live action Mulan that way. Studios with access to streaming of some sort are covered.
What about theatres, though? Theatres rely on the output of studios to bring in an audience. Streaming means the audience doesn’t have to leave home. While some megablockbusters may fare better in theatres instead of streaming – who wants to pay $15 to stay at home? – smaller, more personal film may work best streamed. Theatres have been on shaky finances for a while; studios get all of the film proceeds leaving theatres to increase the price at the concession stand. Movies just aren’t staying as long as they used to and no film today will ever stay a year in theatres, unlike in 1977 and 1978, when Star Wars did just that.
Theatres will have to be more than a place that shows movies. Places like the Alamo Drafthouse provide an entire evening out, adding dinner and drinks with the movie. There’s room for expansion. Not every theatre needs to be the full night out with dinner and dancing after the movie, but having a full night out once the pandemic ebbs is an option to keep in mind.
Studios, though, will still have to produce content. While megablockbusters mught get held back to when and if audience levels make it worth a release, studios will need a near certainty to draw audiences out. Megablockbusters like Star Wars and Marvel’s Avengers series are too big to risk reduced audiences because of lockdowns or imposed restrictions on the number of people allowed in a theatre. The optics of an opening that is depressed because of the pandemic could have franchise-wide effects. However, with anticipated films that might not have the pull that the megas have coming, such as /Dune/, there are some adaptations that can be put on the sacrificial altar to judge audiences or used as the canary to determine if it’s safe to bring the megas back.
Television, including streaming services, will see a few changes. Some genres of television just won’t fly right now. Thanks to social distancing, reality TV. The producers and audience of Survivor won’t want to see the contestants all come down with a severe case of COVID-19. Late night talk shows survived the summer social distancing rules by having the hosts and crew work from home where possible, interviewing guests using remote cameras. Smaller casts and crews with constant monitoring for the coronavirus can let a show be put together. Experimental formats could make inroads; the series doesn’t have to perform well, just fill a timeslot. The One Day At A Time remake had animated an episode to get around COVID restrictions.
Content is going to be sparse for a bit. Television has the advantage of being used to getting an episode done within a week, but with social distancing rules in effect, getting cast and crew together is problematic. Writers can use technologies like Skype, Zoom, and Discord to keep in touch with each other, though online meetings are more exhausting than face-to-face. It won’t take long for studios to get back to full production, though.
This coming year is going to be in flux, ultimately. The past year disrupted everything, from how people lived to how people worked, at all levels. There may be no going back to the old normal; if so, a new normal will be established through trial and error. Studios are going to lean heavily on adaptations to carry them, but the megablockbuster will wait until after audience levels are determined. Television and streaming will keep going strong; no one has to leave home to watch series on either. The aftermath of 2020 will play out through 2021, turning next year into a nice ball of unknowns that might work out as people expect or might go more pear-shaped.