Home Theater

Post-Pandemic Future of Home Theater

The global COVID-19 pandemic changed life around the world. Beyond the tragedies of the deaths and the ramifications of the long-term side effects of the disease, COVID will be a point in time when we will refer to things as how they were before and after the event. While living through the pandemic we all “couldn’t wait” for things to go back to “normal.” But we knew they never would. So, what are some of the changes we will see in this post-pandemic future of home theater.

Home Theater Boom

While there has never been a “home theater boom,” you can make the case that having a good and comfortable place to watch TV became very important during the pandemic. While many people might not have made many changes, there were quite a few (just look at all the questions about upgrades we got on AV Rant at the time) that wanted things to look and sound better. People may have been fine with their AV setups pre-pandemic, but during and post-pandemic, the future of home theater is pretty bright.

Spend a lot of time with any object, place, or person, and you’ll quickly figure out their flaws. The pandemic forced people to spend a lot of time at home with nothing to do but watch television. As they experienced their systems, many discovered that they just weren’t good enough. As the months dragged on, they became more and more annoyed by their systems and started to make small but noticeable upgrades. For home theater enthusiasts, we know that these upgrades are a slippery slope. The next thing you know, people start looking for places for their subwoofers.

Are Movie Theaters Doomed?

One of the reasons that people really started thinking of their home as alternatives to theaters, is when Disney, WB, and others started offering first-run movies via streaming. In the case of Disney, they weren’t even offered in theaters while WB did day-and-date simultaneous releases in the theaters and streaming. Suddenly they were watching brand new movies with nothing but their TV speakers? Time to upgrade!

But even if they didn’t, first-run movies on streaming was something the studios had resisted and the movie theaters had railed against. People had become used to paying $15-$20 a ticket per person to see a movie in the theaters. But they recoiled at a $30 one-time charge for streaming a movie to a whole household in their home theater. Studios were (rightfully) worried that they’d never see the returns on streaming. In-person viewing at the theaters had always offered so much more money. While no one has released any numbers, one can presume that the streaming options have not made the money that studios realized from theaters. But that doesn’t mean that they’ll be rushing back to “normal.”

Black Widow gets Day-and-Date Release

Disney announced that they will release Black Widow (and others) to the theaters and streaming at the same time. With vaccinations on the rise during the time of the announcement, many in the western world were scratching their heads at the choice. But thinking about Disney as an international entity, we have to remember that some countries haven’t seen a single dose of a vaccine. While people in the states and Europe are arguing over whether or not they should get the vaccine, others don’t have that luxury.

But this simultaneous release means something. There will be enough people able, if not willing, to visit a theater to see the movie. This will be a litmus test for the streaming model. Will offering a streaming option take money from the theaters as the cinema owners have often warned, or will it just add more income for the studios? It will take some complex math to figure that out in the midst of a pandemic. But if Disney were smart, they’d have teams of researchers doing exactly that.

Roaring 22’s

As someone that is mostly a homebody, I can say that I cannot wait to go to my first uncomfortable dinner party. Post-pandemic, the last place I’m going to want to be is in my home theater. I am looking forward to sitting in the corner nursing my beer as my wife runs the room. She’ll get to know everyone and introduce me to the ones she knows I’ll connect with. I’m sick of being stuck in my house, with my kids, and I’m ready for a change. Anything will do. Heck, got a kid? I’ll take an invite to their birthday party. I’ll even dress up as a princess if it is that sort of party.

When restrictions really start to relax, we are going to see something like the Roaring 20s. While that phenomenon was mostly in reaction to the end of WWI, it feels like we will see a similar effect at the end of the pandemic. For a while, at least, many of us will be so happy that we can see friends and family safely, none of us will really want to sit in a dark room staring at a screen. The post-pandemic future feels like constant family gatherings and dinner parties, not binging sessions in our home theaters.

There will be a lot of business that will be competing for our attention aside from movie theaters. Live events, restaurants, concerts, plays, sports, not to mention all the friends and family that will want our attention. Will a movie theater have enough draw to pull us to do the thing we’ve essentially been doing for the last year over the stuff we haven’t been able to do? Is the post-pandemic future filled with cinemas full of people or large groups of people reveling in the ability to sit closer than six feet to each other?

Can we put Pandora back in the Box?

But does this mean that streaming will go away? I don’t think so. My guess is that the people that would have gone to the movies will still go to the movies. Those that would prefer to stay home, will still want that. Many of us prefer our home theaters to movie theaters. Can you imagine sitting through the Snyder Cut of the Justice League in the theaters? No thanks.

The future includes streaming. The success of Black Widow may have something to say about this, but I can’t see a future where streaming first-run movies go completely away. Day-and-date might not survive, but the old paradigm will have to change. The consumer will decide the future. When theaters reopen in earnest, will they drop their streaming subscriptions and flock to the theaters? Or will they stay home and pay to stream first-run movies. Their dollars will dictate the future. How will you vote?

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