Film and television production around the world screeched to a halt during the first quarter of last year. And while some saw lockdown as an opportunity to catch up on binge-worthy box sets on Netflix and other home streaming platforms, the shuttering of theatres worldwide left true cinema fans and moviegoers lamenting the sudden disappearance of big-screen content and big-screen experiences.
A year later, film production is thankfully coming back online. Global vaccine rollouts and the implementation of strict, industry-wide health and safety standards, means that theatres are slowly opening up too. The resumption of normal filming activities, combined with a backlog of planned releases that were put on hold when theatrical release became impossible, means that we’re starting to see a flood of major new releases, both to streaming platforms and through traditional distribution channels.
With cinemas closed or running at low capacity since early 2020, cash-strapped studios have been forced to find innovative ways to release pent-up content, and to do so profitably. As a result, we’ve seen many of the larger studios move to online distribution through owned streaming platforms, and a number have even developed hybrid models where films are made available via OTT streaming and in theatres on the same day. First to mind is Disney, which after delaying the release of the live-action remake of Mulan for two years, opted in December to make the film available on Disney+ for a premium. This online release was complimented with limited cinema screenings, and was widely deemed a success, helping the studio recoup a chunk of the film’s production costs.
Warner Brothers announced later the same month that, over the next 12 months it would release all of its new titles on HBO Max – at no additional cost to subscribers – for a one-month period concurrent to cinema screenings. This means that a slew of highly anticipated movies such Dune, In the Heights, Mortal Combat and The Matrix 4 will soon see daylight. Disney has gone on to plan the release of a further 20+ titles on Disney+ and in theatres, including the hotly anticipated 101 Dalmations prequel Cruella, starring Emma Stone (May 28) and Black Widow starring Scarlett Johansson (July 9).
A host of other studios have followed suit with similar release arrangements.
With the major studios finally setting reliable release schedules, awards season in full-swing and the deployment of government support schemes like the UK’s £500m ($500m) Film and Television Restart stimulus package (aimed at helping the film industry get back on its feet), the outlook for exciting new content to hit the market this year is very, very good.
“We are thrilled that the film industry is recovering and releasing so much fresh content because it means that, as airlines begin to resume operations, there will be no shortage of great titles to support their IFE needs,” explains Kate Groth, President at West Entertainment. “Although many airlines have had to adjust their IFE strategies and reduce the frequency of their content refresh cycles, they still want very much to maximise their IFE budgets and provide passengers the widest variety of new and acclaimed titles possible. That part hasn’t changed.”
Though not overtly similar at first glance, the airline and entertainment industries have both been turned upside down by COVID-19. Both have had to press pause, assess the new landscape then adapt quickly to changing circumstances and customer behaviours. Both industries have had to re-imagine their models and their offerings to carve out a “new normal”. The timing of this new influx of high-calibre entertainment is timed perfectly with many airlines resuming their operations.
While it’s yet to be a long road for both the entertainment and aviation industries to get back to healthy ledgers, it is encouraging to see such a diverse selection of quality content coming to market for airline IFE in 2021. The film industry is getting ready to fly again, right alongside the travelling public.