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Movie theaters vs. streaming: What's ahead for Utah theaters?

Posted at 7:23 PM, Mar 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-30 21:40:54-04

PLEASANT GROVE, Utah — It’s been a tough year for many businesses, but the movie theater industry has been hit particularly hard. Even as things begin to reopen, there aren’t many new movies coming in from Hollywood — and most of the ones being released are being offered at both the theater and straight to streaming.

The window of time between movie theater release dates and streaming release dates is shrinking. This began even before the pandemic, according to Sarah E.S. Sinwell, an assistant professor in film and media arts at the University of Utah.

“It used to be months. It shrunk to a few weeks, and as a result of the pandemic, it is almost nonexistent in a lot of cases,” she said.

READ: Pleasant Grove theater goes ‘retro,’ transforms into drive-in movie theater

When things first shut down in March, there was a lot of uncertainty, the owner of Water Gardens Cinema 6 in Pleasant Grove said.

“It has been devastating, really tough,” Michael Daniels said.

To survive, the theater began offering drive-in movies and curbside concessions as things slowly started opening. It was important to be creative, manager Kyle Larsen said. Eventually, the theater was able to offer in-person movies again.

“When we turned our projectors on, I started tearing up, for the first time in May, I was like, 'Oh my gosh, I missed this so much,'" Larsen said.

The drive-in movies will return in May, Larsen said. In the meantime, the theater has quadrupled its private events to help make up for some of the revenue loss. The theater is open with COVID-19 precautions with limited showtimes and hours.

“It has been this on-again, off-again kind of thing. Much, much lower than we have done in previous years”, Daniels said.

READ: Movie theaters reopen for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began

There is uncertainty surrounding how streaming will impact the movie theater business, but Daniels said he believes there is room for both revenues to make money. Movies, especially the action-packed ones, are meant to be seen for the first time on the big screen, Larsen said.

“When something happens and the audience cheers, or the audience laughs, or somebody yells out that random snarky phrase or whatever it is. It is just so fun to be a part of a living environment,” he said.

The best thing people can do to help: buy tickets, buy concessions and support movie theaters, Sinwell said.

“We need to go back to the movie theaters because that is going to help,” she said.

For the latest health guidelines for movie theatres in Utah, click here.