The film industry has faced some major shake-ups in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. With theaters closing and people staying home, the battle between traditional movie theaters and streaming platforms has become more relevant than ever. In this blog, we’re going to dig into the changes happening in the world of movies post-COVID and why market research plays a pivotal role in understanding all these shifts. 

While more recent industry shakeups like the Barbie movie and WGA strike are still playing out, the pandemic completely flipped the script for the film industry and it’s still recovering. Theaters went dark, blockbuster releases got delayed, and people started streaming movies from their couches like never before. The way we watch and enjoy films changed in a big way. 

This is where market research comes into play. It helps us understand what viewers want, how they’re changing their habits, and what the future of movies might look like. Let us turn to how the film industry changed and continues to change after COVID, with a focus on why market research is the behind-the-scenes hero in this story. 

The Pre-COVID Landscape 

Before COVID-19 hit, the film industry had a fairly comfortable routine. Let’s break it down: 

The Coexistence of Theatrical Releases and Streaming 

Movies used to follow a simple path: they’d hit the big screen in theaters, and then, months later, they’d pop up on streaming services. The two worlds coexisted, with each catering to different tastes and occasions. You could plan a big night out at the cinema for the latest blockbuster or chill at home with a movie on your favorite streaming platform. 

Statistics and Trends 

  • Box Office Revenue: Theatrical releases were the heavyweights when it came to box office revenue. Blockbusters like Avengers and Star Wars raked in billions worldwide. It was a golden era for cinema, with box office records being shattered left and right. 
  • Streaming Subscribers: On the other side of the ring, streaming services like Netflix, Prime Video, and Hulu were on the rise. They were steadily growing their subscriber bases, offering a library of content at your fingertips. The convenience of streaming attracted more and more viewers. 

Consumer preferences played a significant role in movie theater vs. streaming activity. Some people loved the experience of going to a movie theater, with the big screen, surround sound, and the smell of fresh popcorn. Others preferred the comfort of their own couch, where they could pause, rewind, and binge-watch whole seasons. 

Traditional Market Research 

In the pre-COVID world, market research was a bit more traditional. It involved surveys, focus groups, and analyzing historical data. Movie studios and streaming platforms tried to gauge audience preferences and predict which genres, actors, and storylines would resonate. They’d make big bets on movies and shows based on these insights, hoping to strike gold. But here’s the thing: while market research was helpful, it wasn’t always foolproof. Sometimes, even the most well-researched movies flopped, and unexpected hits emerged. It was a bit of a guessing game. 

That was the setup before COVID-19 disrupted everything. The cinema world was fairly stable, with theaters and streaming coexisting, even though the balance was starting to shift. But then, the pandemic hit, and all bets were off. 

The Impact of COVID-19 

When COVID-19 made its entrance, it brought along a hurricane of disruptions for the film industry. The pandemic forced theaters to close their doors, which was a huge bummer for movie buffs. Not only did this mean you couldn’t catch the latest releases on the big screen, but it also hit the film industry where it hurt the most – at the box office. Theatrical releases, especially big-budget blockbusters, had to hit the pause button, leading to huge financial losses. 

With theaters off-limits and people stuck at home due to stay-at-home orders and social distancing measures, there was a massive shift in how we consumed content. Streaming services became the go-to entertainment source. It was the closest thing you could get to a Cinema. Netflix, Disney+, Prime Video, and others saw a surge in demand. People started binge-watching series, catching up on movies, and exploring new content. Suddenly, streaming platforms were delivering not just entertainment but also a lifeline to escape the monotony of lockdowns. 

As a result: 

  • Streaming subscriptions soared: The number of streaming subscribers skyrocketed during the pandemic. The number of subscriptions to online video streaming services worldwide reached 1.1 billion in 2020, according to data by the Motion Picture Association. Netflix alone added millions of new subscribers. 
  • Theater attendance plummeted: On the flip side, movie theater attendance hit rock bottom. With health concerns and restrictions in place, people were understandably hesitant about crowded theaters. Global box office revenue dropped from $42.5 billion in 2019 to just $12.4 billion in 2020. 
  • Content consumption patterns changed: There were changes in what people were watching, too. More people gravitated toward feel-good and escapist content. Documentaries and reality shows gained popularity as viewers sought both information and distraction. 

Post-COVID Recovery and Trends 

The COVID-19 pandemic may have rocked the film industry, but it’s not a knockout. Here’s how the industry is bouncing back and what trends are taking the spotlight: 

Reopened Theaters and Resumed Production 

As vaccinations rolled out and the situation improved, theaters cautiously reopened their doors. It was a sigh of relief for both cinema enthusiasts and the industry itself. People started returning to their favorite theaters, craving the unique experience of the big screen. 

Film production, which had come to a halt during lockdowns, gradually resumed. This meant a resurgence of new content hitting both theaters and streaming platforms. 

A few major trends emerged during this time. For one, hybrid releases became common. Studios started experimenting with releasing movies both in theaters and on streaming platforms simultaneously. You could choose whether to watch the latest flick on the big screen or from the comfort of your home. This was a game-changer. Another trend that popped up was exclusive streaming deals – streaming platforms weren’t about to let theaters steal the entire show. They inked exclusive deals with top talent, directors, and production companies to create original content that you could only find on their platform. It was a way to keep subscribers hooked. Another trend we saw was that some theater chains like AMC were offering private auditorium renting for a relatively low price, so people could get that theatrical experience without the health risk that came with being surrounded by strangers at the time. 

Market Research Insights 

So, what did market research uncover in this post-COVID era? 

  • Consumer Sentiment: Research showed that while many were eager to return to theaters, there was also a lasting impact on consumer sentiment. Health and safety remained a top concern, and people were selective about when and where they ventured out to watch movies. 
  • Streaming Preferences: Market research found that streaming was no longer just a pandemic trend; it was here to stay. Consumers valued the convenience, variety, and ability to binge-watch. This parallel can be drawn to the corporate world, where companies have recognized the enduring nature of remote or hybrid work arrangements. 
  • Hybrid Appeal: The concept of hybrid releases resonated with audiences. Many appreciated the flexibility it offered, allowing them to enjoy the cinema experience while not missing out if they couldn’t make it to the theater. 

In this post-COVID landscape, the film industry continues to evolve. Theaters are making a comeback, but streaming isn’t going away. The future seems to be a dynamic blend of both, with market research serving as the guiding light, helping studios and platforms make informed decisions in a rapidly changing environment. 

The Role of Market Research 

Market research is the secret to the film industry’s success. Let’s dive into why it’s such a big deal. 

Understanding Audience Preferences, Behavior, and Competition 

Market research is like having a backstage pass to the minds of moviegoers and streamers. It helps determine: 

  • Audience Preferences: Market research delves deep into the likes and dislikes of viewers. Do they prefer action over romance? Are they hungry for more sci-fi or leaning toward comedies? This kind of insight helps studios and platforms tailor their content. Likewise, theater chains can conduct research on amenities, services, protocols, and more to find out if these preferences have shifted during and after the pandemic. 
  • Behavior Patterns: Understanding how people watch movies is just as important as what they watch. Do they binge-watch entire series in one weekend or savor one episode a week? Do they prefer streaming on their phone or the big TV in the living room? Market research paints a clear picture of these habits. 
  • Competitive Landscape: Market research isn’t just about your own audience; it’s also about keeping an eye on the competition. What are other studios and platforms doing right? What’s clicking with viewers? This competitive intelligence is key for success. 

Informed Decision-Making 

Market research isn’t just about collecting data; it’s about putting it to good use. It guides content acquisition by helping studios and streaming platforms make smart choices when selecting movies or TV series to add to their libraries, akin to having a cheat sheet for optimal selection. For instance, if research identifies a surge in interest in eco-friendly documentaries, platforms can prioritize those. Market research also heavily influences production choices, where studios employ audience insights to greenlight projects aligned with viewer preferences; if there’s a strong appetite for fantasy series, they’ll invest accordingly. Additionally, market research plays a pivotal role in shaping distribution strategies, aiding in decisions about whether to premiere content in theaters, release it straight to streaming, or embrace a hybrid approach. It also informs the target demographic, ensuring content resonates effectively with the intended audience, thus answering critical questions that drive success in the industry. 

Future Predictions and Challenges 

The future of the film industry may be full of twists and turns. Here’s what might be in store. 

The Future of Theatrical Releases and Streaming Services 

  • Hybrid Dominance: Expect the trend of hybrid releases (theatrical and streaming) to gain even more ground. Studios and platforms will likely continue to experiment with this model to cater to diverse viewing preferences. It’s like offering audiences the best of both worlds. 
  • Streaming Wars Intensify: The battle among streaming platforms is far from over. More players will enter the arena, intensifying the competition. Exclusive content, innovative features, and pricing strategies will be key battlegrounds. Streaming consolidation is also on the rise.  
  • Quality Over Quantity: While content variety is important, quality will shine brighter. Studios and platforms will focus on creating compelling, well-crafted content to keep audiences engaged.  

Evolution of Market Research 

  • Advanced Analytics: Market research will become even more data-driven. Advanced analytics, including AI and machine learning, will enable more precise predictions about audience behavior and preferences.  
  • Real-Time Feedback: Instant feedback loops will become the norm. Platforms and studios will use real-time data to make on-the-fly adjustments, refining content and distribution strategies as they go.  
  • Virtual Research: In parallel, virtual research methodologies will thrive, allowing content creators and studios to gather immediate insights from virtual focus groups, simulations, and immersive surveys. This data will further inform real-time adjustments, enhancing content relevance and engagement. 
  • Personalization: Market research will help tailor content recommendations. Platforms will increasingly curate content based on individual tastes and viewing habits.  

Challenges and Uncertainties 

  • Theater Attendance: One of the biggest questions is the long-term impact of streaming on theater attendance. Theaters may need to innovate to provide unique, immersive experiences that can’t be replicated at home. 
  • Content Overload: With an ever-expanding library of content, viewers may suffer from decision fatigue. Helping viewers discover content they love will be an ongoing challenge. 
  • Evolving Consumer Behavior: Consumer behavior is fluid. Understanding how it evolves, especially as technology changes, will be a constant challenge. 

In this fast-evolving landscape, the film industry’s future is exciting yet uncertain. The dynamics between theaters and streaming services will continue to shift, and market research will play an even more pivotal role in keeping studios and platforms on track. By staying agile, adapting to consumer trends, and leveraging advanced research tools, the industry can navigate the challenges and ensure that the show will go on, whether it’s on the big screen or in your living room. 

Fuel Cycle provides a comprehensive platform for conducting market research, capturing real-time data, and interpreting consumer sentiment, allowing entertainment companies to make informed decisions at every stage of content development, marketing, and distribution. By harnessing the capabilities of Fuel Cycle, entertainment companies can navigate the complex challenges of the film industry with confidence, ensuring that their offerings resonate with viewers and stay ahead in this competitive and rapidly changing field. 

So, here’s the bottom line: staying informed and adaptive is the key to thriving in this dynamic landscape. Market research isn’t just a helpful tool; it’s the secret ingredient in making the right decisions. Ready to discover how we can help you map out your market research endeavors? Talk to us >