For decades, sitting in a darkened and often crowded movie theater was the only way to watch the latest blockbuster or genre films.
The movie industry began to be disrupted by Blockbuster, which popularized the rise of video rentals, then by the groundbreaking Netflix, which offers greater convenience and greater content offerings to radically change the home-viewing experience.
Now, that disruption has been accelerated by the pandemic, and the very act of seeing a film in a theater is threatened. This week, Regal Cinemas, the second-largest theater chain in the country, suspended operations at all of its U.S. locations, news that comes after the postponement of major film releases such as Wonder Woman 1984 and the remake of Candyman.
Professor of Entrepreneurship Gina O’Connor says the industry’s challenges will be solved by new business models. Who and what establishes them is yet to be determined.
The obstacles that film leaders face aren’t unique to the cinema. Broadway shows, live sporting events, and most other large, indoor gatherings, for example, face challenges that months into the pandemic still remain without permanent solutions.
“It’s a similar problem to what many industries have faced,” O’Connor says. “Filmmakers spend a lot of money on a project they think is going to be a breakthrough, writing, directing; you expect millions of people are going to want to watch it.”
For the film industry specifically, these hurdles have been compounded by the countless ways for viewers to consume content today, whether through streaming services, YouTube, and even still cable. These rising competitors—some of which have been threatening the industry for years—now are in an even better position to succeed while the theater industry scrambles to remain profitable or even sustainable.
“Entrepreneurial leaders are all about opportunity spotting.”
Gina O'Connor, Professor of Entrepreneurship
We’ve witnessed Regal Cinemas experiment with unlimited ticket subscription plans in recent years, but could the chain pull off a direct-to-consumer platform? There’s no reason why not, O’Connor says.
“The technology that is possible, the amount of talent and amount of content that is being consumed,” she says. “Entrepreneurial leaders are all about opportunity spotting.”
Like the top entrepreneurial leaders do, companies already well positioned could continue to innovate. For example, O’Connor hypothesizes, Netflix could find its way into becoming a distributor of education materials in a time when virtual learning has become the new normal.
“They’ll find opportunities because the consumption of this kind of stuff continues to grow,” O’Connor says. “We’re going to find more uses for a platform that delivers content to an individual.”
If we’ve learned anything about video content, it’s that demand continues to rise, despite how seemingly saturated the market has become.
“People can get entertainment in so many different ways,” O’Connor says. “Everybody is looking for good material. In many ways, this is going to turn into a mechanism where we’re going to have to find new business models.”
And, the path to progress and profitability must include innovation.
“It’s a brutal industry right now,” the entrepreneurship professor says, “but there’s so much opportunity because consumption of the content has increased so much. There’s interesting ways of thinking about how to repurpose or expand that industry to accomplish other things around communication of material that we probably haven’t yet thought of.”
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