For (most) people, going to a movie offers more than just respite and entertainment. It happens to be a social experience altogether, where you sit in the same hall with lots of people from all walks of life. People that can be either your loved one, friends, families, colleagues or even strangers.
Impact Of COVID-19 On Cinema Businesses
Then came COVID-19. The highly-contagious virus that became a worldwide pandemic since last year, affecting every country including our home turf in Malaysia. To say that COVID-19 has changed the way we live our lives is probably an understatement.
Most businesses are struggling to stay afloat or losing profit, and that includes the film industry in general. Cinemas are forced to shut down either temporarily or indefinitely by the government. And even though at some point cinemas were allowed to resume operations, it’s hardly business as usual. With reduced capacity, strict SOP guidelines to adhere to, and an underlying fear of getting infected in general, some people are sceptical about going back to enjoying movies in the cinema.
In Malaysia alone, local cinemas such as GSC, TGV and MBO suffered from 15 weeks (that’s over 3 months long!) of shutdown since the beginning of movement control order (MCO) on March 18, 2020. Although cinema operators have subsequently given the green light to reopen in July that same year, it didn’t last long. COVID-19 cases across nationwide saw a significant spike, prompting the cinemas to cease operations once again from November onwards.
The second time the local cinemas’ shutdown lasted over a month before they were allowed to resume business on December 16. Except for the fact it was only restricted to the locations under the recovery movement control order (RMCO). And if you happen to live around the Klang Valley area, GSC Alamanda Putrajaya was the only last
man cinema standing at the time.
Major late-December releases including “Wonder Woman 1984”, “Soul” and “Shock Wave 2” managed to attract moviegoers back to cinemas. Unfortunately, these movies were forced to stop screening to the public when the third wave struck big-time.
At the time of writing, local cinemas remain closed from 13 January 2021 until further notice.
Streaming Services On The Rise
As mentioned earlier, COVID-19 has changed the way we live our lives, including the way we watch movies, especially with the current cinema closure and all. This, in turn, caused more people to resort to streaming movies at the comfort of their own homes. Frankly, it’s easy to see why: it’s generally safer, more convenient and cheaper.
Besides, with our government constantly reminding us to stay home to help flatten the curve, streaming movies have since become a norm. Confining ourselves indoors for most of the time means we have to deal with limitations. With nothing much to do indoors, most turn to streaming services to keep themselves occupied. According to Nielsen data via The Malaysian Reserve, “Malaysia registered close to one (1) million new over-the-top (OTT) or streaming subscribers last year (2020) to 14.1 million users, representing about 78% of the ages 15+ viewing population“, which is a lot. And, if you can’t enjoy without popcorn in your hand, local cinemas like GSC and TGV have collaborated with food delivery services to make it easier for anyone who misses the taste of the caramel-coated snack.
List Of Popular Streaming Services In Malaysia
When it comes to streaming services, there are a few of them available in Malaysia. Among the popular ones include:
The streaming service that basically revolutionised the way we consume media. With thousands of new and old media content under a single platform, no wonder Netflix ranks among the most preferred streaming services among many Malaysians. As per May 2020 data by Vase, 33% of consumers prefer to stream Netflix.
Prices are relatively affordable for as low as RM17 per month, provided you don’t mind streaming on a mobile device. Alternatively, you can opt for the Basic plan (RM35/month for 1 screen in Standard Definition) or Standard plan (RM45/month for 2 screens in Full HD). Finally, there’s the Premium plan priced at RM55/month for 4 screens in Full HD and 4K.
In terms of popularity, FlixPatrol has recorded the Polish erotic romantic drama “365 Days” as 2020’s number-one most popular movie on Netflix in Malaysia, with 609 points in total. The fan-favourite, made-for-Netflix “Extraction” starring Chris Hemsworth made it in the 2nd spot at 257 points. Five other Netflix-exclusive movies that managed to make it in the Top 10 list include “The Call” (No. 5, 214 points), “Enola Holmes” (No. 6, 192 points), “#Alive” (No. 7, 183 points), “The Old Guard” (No. 8, 182 points) and “Project Power” (No. 10, 152 points).
Amazon Prime Video
Amazon Prime Video may be no match for Netflix particularly in terms of content availability (at least for Malaysia), but this streaming service happens to be more affordable. It costs only USD5.99 or approximately RM24.20 per month. In 2020, among the acclaimed Amazon Original movies available for streaming include “The Vast Of Night”, “Sound Of Metal” and of course, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”.
Hong Kong-based Viu focuses more on Asian content, where you can choose to stream for free (Basic membership) or go Premium. For the latter, prices start from RM12.90 per month to RM48 (6 months) and RM88 (1 year). In 2020, their most notable movie happened to be the Oscar-winning “Parasite”, which was available via Viu Premium.
Will Streaming Services Prevail Even After Covid-19?
It goes without saying that 2020 was a banner year for streaming services. They were the ones that kept entertainment alive and kicking.
For last year alone, Netflix has managed to attract major Hollywood talents to have their movies released exclusively for the platform. This can be evidently seen with last year’s Netflix movies alone like David Fincher’s “Mank”, Spike Lee’s “Da 5 Bloods” and Aaron Sorkin’s “The Trial Of The Chicago 7”.
This year sees Netflix raising their game by releasing 70 movies, once a week throughout 2021. As expected, among the few major releases include as “Red Notice” with Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot while Chris Hemsworth leads an upcoming sci-fi film called “Escape From Spiderhead”.
Other streaming services like Amazon Prime Video and HBO Max (currently only available in the US) are no slouch either. Come March 2021, Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall are set to bring the laugh again with the long-awaited sequel of “Coming 2 America” on Amazon Prime Video.
One of Hollywood’s major studios, Warner Bros. took a huge gamble by releasing all of their upcoming 2021 movies simultaneously on HBO Max and in cinemas. That includes every movie from “Tom And Jerry” to “Mortal Kombat”, “Godzilla vs. Kong” as well as “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” and “Dune”.
While some people may think that streaming services would dominate the moviegoing experience, let’s not write off traditional cinemas just yet. People may have developed the fear of sitting in the cinema hall watching a movie due to COVID-19. And even after the pandemic eventually ends one day, it is understandable that some people might take time to reverse their thoughts of going back to the cinemas.
Put it this way: when people have been stuck at home for way too long, it’s just a matter of time before they get fed up of relying solely on streaming services to keep them entertained. People might miss the days they used to enjoy movies in the cinemas, not to mention a handy excuse to get out of the house.
That’s not to say streaming services will be in decline when cinemas are back in business as usual. Personally, I think cinemas are here to stay. But at the same time, streaming services will become more competitive than ever. Besides, the likes of Netflix offers the kind of major perk that traditional studio systems would think twice about: creative freedom.
How I Felt About Watching Movies At Home Than In The Cinema
As an avid moviegoer myself, I generally prefer to watch movies in the cinema than streaming at home. Besides, nothing beats the immersive cinematic experience watching a movie on the big screen, with all the visual and sound quality that you can’t simply replicate them at home.
Take last year’s “Tenet”, for instance. It’s the kind of movie best enjoyed on the biggest screen possible. However, watching it again via online on a laptop easily took away that experience. Not to mention streaming the movie at home (bedroom, to be exact) isn’t much of an experience as sitting in the air-conditioned, darkened cinema hall. Sure, I admit it’s not comfortable wearing a mask while sitting one seat apart from another. But no matter what, the cinema-going experience still outweighs home streaming.
Of course, that doesn’t mean I despise streaming entirely. For one thing that I value the most, I can choose to stop and play the movie anytime I want. All without having to worry about missing a single scene even if you are going for a toilet break.
Given the fact we have been living over a year with COVID-19 remaining at large, it’s frustrating to see our local cinema business in a dire state, more so since I rely on going to movie screenings in the cinema as part of my job being a freelance movie reviewer.
Now we have two questions: One is an idle wondering of when will COVID-19 vanish from the face of the Earth. Until then, only time will tell. Two, what’s your take on streaming services? Do you prefer the cinemas, or to stream at home? Let us know!