By Ariani Mohd Nor
A doctor, a scientist, and an epidemiologist walked into a cinema…
Just kidding. In this pandemic? They know better. They’re too busy.
Also, it’s because they’re unable to do that – the Malaysian Association of Film Exhibitors (MAFE) has just recently announced the mandatory suspension of operations of cinemas in Malaysia until coming December due to the implementation of the conditional movement control order (CMCO) in some states and districts.
This news, while inevitable and highly necessary, has been very economically detrimental to the cinema industry.
For the safety of the public, cinemas in Malaysia will react accordingly as advised by the MAFE and the National Security Council while they also monitor the current pandemic situation. However, the industry has hit rock bottom since the beginning of the year.
“The national cinema industry has hit a 90 per cent drop of admissions since the beginning of the movement control order (MCO) in March,” MAFE vice president Cheah Chun Wai stated.
“Cinemas also need to heavily invest in safety protocols everywhere in order to follow the nation’s standard operating procedures.” Chun Wai continued.
“It has not been easy for us (the cinema industry) to continuously open and reopen during these times, but it is extremely necessary.”
Moreover, GSC Cinemas Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Koh Mei Lee also supplemented that the chain operator is losing up to RM1.4 million per day during the pandemic, while TGV Cinemas spokesperson predicts that the industry will have to lay off about 4,000 of it workers in desperate measure if the condition still persists by the end of the year.
This is also followed by the lack of movie releases within this year, and the difficulty to operate with little movies to offer.
As cinemas are the epicentre of communal and culture and are loved by many Malaysians, the re-operation of cinemas are definitely worth looking forward to – however, things may still look bleak for the industry, especially with the rise of online streaming sites.
Competing with Netflix and other online streaming sites
As film experts see a surge in subscriptions with online streaming sites in the past decade, the cinema industry may have already been going through losses since before the pandemic. New Atlas also reported that it may even be impossible to understate how these sites have been disruptive to the film industry.
Ever since online streaming sites such as Netflix, Hulu, and Disney+ walked into the entertainment industry, traditional media such as the television and the cinemas have been suffering with loss of audience and visitors.
Truthfully, it was inevitable. It’s a known fact that it takes a lot less effort to Netflix and chill rather than going to the cinemas.
While the audience have to physically go to the cinema to enjoy their services, online streaming sites only require users to literally sit back and watch – anywhere, anytime, as long as they have paid for their subscription and have access to the internet on their smart devices.
Subscribers will have unlimited access to movies and shows in high quality settings without stepping out of their homes.
To make things more interesting, a single account can be shared by many devices, thus, for those looking for entertainment within limited budget may even opt for this as users can also choose from many movies and TV shows at one time.
Netflix’s first venture in film distribution was through ‘Beasts of No Nation’ in 2015, and its revenue from the theatrical box office is no competition for the streaming site’s multi-billion dollar subscription revenue.
It brings to the question of whether cinema box offices can ever compete with online streaming – with its added benefits of a home subscription and its wider range of entertainment choices.
After all, when all of us are cooped inside our homes during the pandemic, people might even completely switch their preferences completely in order to stay safe indoors.
Online and offline choices
In normal circumstances where there is no pandemic, moviegoers would usually have two options to choose from – offline cinemas or online streaming sites.
Amazon Studios announced that their movies will be played in cinemas for two to eight weeks before hitting the Amazon Prime Videos site; however, their competitor Disney+ has recently been in the spotlight for offering ‘Mulan (2020)’ to be played online first as early as September 2020 before hitting theatres in December of the same year.
To those who are very much an indoor person like me, online streaming sites may be a better preference. To be cooped up in your room and relax while watching your favourite shows can be a source of comfort from the outside world.
To those who prefer being outdoors, well – it’s a no-brainer. Just not during the pandemic.
However, there’s an undeniable heaven-to-earth experience when comparing cinemas to online streaming sites.
Many would prefer cinemas, regardless of their home-or-outside preference. The thrill of being in the cinema hall with other people around you who share the same interest in the big screen that’s perfectly within your eyesight is simply undefeatable; bar none.
When the pandemic subsides, my only hope is to see the cinema industry booming with people again to support not only the theatre chain itself, but also the workers who live from income to income.
In this pandemic, supporting local businesses such as our home-grown cinemas should be prioritised in order to keep the nation’s economy gradually rising.
So that while the doctor, scientist and the epidemiologist may not be able to walk into the cinema today, they will still have the chance to do it in the future – when efforts to produce the long-awaited vaccine is finally fruitful.***