As we saw coronavirus concerns push back the release date of Bond 25: No Time to Die, it felt like something big was changing in an already constantly-changing year in the media. So, some at the Tom's Guide offices started to wonder about what's next.
Could we see the big movies arrive on our huge flat-screens at home? Could a big summer film like F9: Fast & Furious 9 slow its roll, moving from May to December?
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To find out, I reached out to Paul Dergarabedian, the senior media analyst for ComScore. Dergarabedian isn't ready to be concerned about changes to how we stream just yet, and started our conversation by referencing the concrete details.
"Last weekend, the first box office weekend in North America where there was a lot of high profile discussion about the coronavirus, we saw every movie theater in North America and Canada was open," said Dergarabedian. "And The Invisible Man overperformed, making almost $50 million worldwide, almost $30 million in North America."
Dergarabedian emphasized the part about the theaters being open, and that gives a solid argument for why things will likely stay stable … at least for now. He also pointed to the very near future, for when to expect to learn a little bit more about the state of things.
Of course, we've got another major data point coming up. "This weekend is a really key weekend: Onward, the Pixar movie is opening," Dergarabedian noted. "It's a family film, so far it's doing well, looks like it could do $40 to $45 million this weekend," which could calm down the frightened skeptics.
And if and when Onward opens strong? "As long as theaters are open," he said, "people are just figuring 'hey, I'm going to the movies' it's provided an escape since the great depression, and it's sorta been the place you go to escape the real world."
I'm not going to argue that COVID-19 could boost the box office, especially with concerns about public gatherings.
"Obviously, people have to be cognizant of their own health, and it's a personal decision how you deal with that," said Dergarabedian. But I'm spending this weekend as I would any other. Going to a movie theater on Friday, a brewery event with live wrestling on Saturday, and multiple trips to the gym throughout.
Cinema releases are all about businesses staying open, because, as Dergarabedian said to me, "we've seen zero impact in North America — and most theaters around the world that are open." However, Dergarabedian notes that in "China, South Korea and Italy, where theaters are unavailable, there is a complete dropoff at the box office."
And Bond didn't move just because of coronavirus concerns. Dergarabedian explained to me that such a decision isn't done lightly.
"For studios, obviously they're looking at this very carefully, and we saw the James Bond movie move to November, which made sense for that movie, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is Bond, usually in the modern era has been released in November anyway," said Dergarabedian.
"Once you set the release date, the marketing, one sheets, trailers etc. are locked," he continued. "Everything revolves around those release dates, so to change it, I'm sure they had some major discussions at MGM UA before they made that decision."
As for those fretting? Dergarabedian told me that while "There have been a lot of articles saying, well now all the studios are going to move their movies, and it's a much bigger deal than people think, to move a movie. People are speculating about Mulan and The Quiet Place 2, but there have been no indications that those are moving."
Dergarabedian did note that delays are possible "more in the international arena, where right now there are films that would and do count on a lot of their box office from international — and China being the second biggest market in the world — and that's a big deal, and I'm even minimizing it by calling it a big deal."
When I asked if movies could be released at home at the same time as movie theaters, in some sort of high-end iPPV or video on demand fashion, Dergarabedian said it was "a very interesting idea" before completely dismantling it.
"I know that the theatrical release windows are sacrosanct to the movie theaters, and that theaters have never gotten on board such an attempt, even for a one off deal or movie, because it's like a slippery slope."
And right now, theaters are doing well. Dergarabedian noted that "people are keeping the habit of using both the movie theater and streaming services," and that the box office is up 2.5%, year to date.
Again, Dergarabedian drew his sights to Pixar: "If this weekend, families and kids run out to see Onward, and it does great business? As long as the theaters stay open, the status quo remains."
I wouldn't necessarily say things will stay that way, and neither did he, by observing that "everyone, in every business, is looking at this all, developing strategies to nimbly and creatively make the best of this very tough situation."
Streaming services will likely stay a bit separate from the cinema for now.
Dergarabedian notes that "streaming is more disrupting streaming than the movie theater at this point, and the marketplace is so fragmented … and that people are locked into their same viewing habits, be it on the big screen or small screen."
Hopefully, we won't see the drastic change to public life that could upset the balance.