Kainaat sent me a fascinating article, which also depresses me, but has the very small silver lining that it confirms my analysis of years is/was correct. Keep trusting me, stop fighting me, I do actually know what I am talking about. Depressing though it is.
How many times have we had a discussion here about if multiplexes and streaming services are good for the film industry? And how many times have I tried to explain that just because content is “good” does not mean it is healthy for the industry? That the film industry relies on profit and audience and tickets, not on making a movie that is some abstract perfect representation of Art? That just because we (educated English speaking westernized people) like a movie, does not mean the industry should make more movies to please us? That Star Culture is a fact of life in Hindi cinema and killing the stars will kill the industry? That you have to ignore the buzz and fake numbers and look at ticket sales, and the reality is the industry is dying and has been for years?
As I have said before, that kind of analysis didn’t come from my grad school training, it came from working at a movie theater where my ability to pay rent that month relied on movies releasing people actually wanted to see. Not films that had inflated opening weekends with 3D ticket prices, not films that got critical applause, but the movies people would come in to see and see again at our $5 ticket prices. No one thinks about the minimum wage workers who rely on the industry continuing, on the audiences coming in, least of all the filmmakers who are just looking at the bottom line, but if you don’t think about them, the industry is going to die. Films don’t survive on the rich people who can pay $20 for a ticket once every three months, they are a mass media, they survive when the masses by tickets.
And here are single screen owners talking to BollywoodHungama saying what I have been saying this whole time. Which I would like to think means I will no longer get people questioning me in the comments on my posts, and maybe even that the film writers at BollywoodHungama itself will stop blindly reporting fake box office numbers, but probably not. Blech. I’m having a hard day and having my darkest analysis confirmed is not helping.
And just in case you are a newbie, here is the basic background to understand what this is talking about. In Indian film, distributors bid a flat rate for the rights to a particular film. If the film makes a very small amount in box office tickets but more than the distributors paid, it is a “hit”. If the film makes a lot of money in box office tickets but less than the distributors paid, it is a “flop”.
Secondly, in India there are two kinds of theaters, “multiplex” and “single screen”. These are industry accepted legal definitions. The multiplexes tickets are taxed at a different rate, usually less, and the contract they have with distributors and producers gives them a higher percentage of the ticket prices opening weekend versus following weekends. Single screens consistantly sell far more individual tickets but at only a quarter of the prices that multiplexes charge. And often at a higher rate of taxes. Also, their profit share is distributors is different.
For the past 5 years at least, the story accepted everywhere but THIS BLOG is that multiplexes are healthy for the industry, allow “better” films to find a “better” audience. And that overall the industry is improving as the box office total figures shoot through the roof. With the introduction of streaming, the story became “streaming is good because it is easier for me (the audience) to find the films I want, and the films are better quality”. And only THIS BLOG has been saying “you are not the audience, you are but a small portion of the audience. And the films are only better quality according to your measure.”
Did I mention I’m feeling just tired and worn down today?
Links to full articles: https://www.bollywoodhungama.com/news/features/explosive-single-screen-exhibitors-slam-bollywood-urge-make-pan-india-commercial-films-part-1/
On the allusion of a healthy industry at the moment based on overall box office reports and distributor profits:
“Mara hua haathi bhi sawaa laakh ka hota hai! A film like Bang Bang may have lost money in the distribution chain. But do you realize it still made Rs. 70 crore for the exhibition sector? It takes 10 films like Ship Of Theseus to be able to reach that figure. So even if films like Bang Bang and Dabangg 3 underperform, it still makes a lot of money. In other words, it helps to earn the livelihood of lakhs of workers who work in the organized and disorganized film exhibition sector.”
On the limitations of streaming services:
“If you look at the OTT platform, whether it’s Netflix or Amazon, it has content that appeals to multiplex audience or those who have access to and awareness about global content. I don’t think that a typical Salman Khan or Tiger Shroff fan will be excited about watching a show like Silicon Valley or Money Heist on Netflix. So the audience that only has cinema as the primary source of entertainment when they step out of their house, our stars should focus on such audience rather than an audience which is disloyal to the theatrical medium. I really hope that our Hindi film fraternity can shift gears to treating cinema as a mode of entertainment for the mass. The day we do that, I see no reason why cinema won’t be able to thrive as a primary entertainment form all over again.”
On the responsibility of stars to work harder and make more movies for overall health of the industry:
“An actor like Hrithik Roshan can easily give 2 hits in a year. Same with Ranbir Kapoor. They want to become accomplished artists. For what? Why can’t they make a normal film? Then everyone will see.”
“Livelihoods of so many people are dependent on stars. If one single screen shuts, it means 20 people would be out of work.”
On the toxicity of the critics:
“I think a lot of our filmmakers and actors are influenced by wrong people in the wrong sense. The day we start taking audiences more seriously rather than an Anupama Chopra, we’ll be fine. She may be a great connoisseur of cinema from across the world, but the behaviour and consumption pattern of audiences in Europe and America are very, very different from that of audiences in India. There’s no way these critics from their ivory towers will be able to analyse films like Baaghi 3, War, Krrish, Singham etc. appropriately. In order to do that, you need to have the mindset of a common man. And I am not saying that films like Shubh Mangal Saavdhan or Andhadhun should not be made. They should be made and I love watching them. But these are not the films that help the entire ecosystem.”
Yeah, why can’t they make a normal film?
Although whoever this is does contradict themselves. Hrithik did War and he did try to do another blockbuster; Anupama Chopra regularly champions low brow movies.
The basic point is one you and I and other people here have made often, though, so it’s good (?) to see that confirmed.
The full article gives more context to the Hrithik example, they discuss Super 30 too. Which was a massive record breaking hit, but only in multiplexes. They want Hrithik to do two movies like War per your, instead of bothering with Super 30. In that context, I completely agree with them, Hrithik took over a year to finish Super 30 and gained critical acclaim and urban success for it. He took like 3 months to make War and it was a savior of single screens. Make two Wars to every Super 30, apportion your time and energy like that, and the industry will be in a much healthier place.
On Sat, May 30, 2020 at 3:36 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:
Sure, that makes sense. They do make it seem like making something with mass success is simple though, which it isn’t. Malaal looked to me like the pinnacle of something trying to have mass appeal, why didn’t that do better? If you want masala so much, why didn’t you go to see that, India????
They also missed a shot by not talking about censorship. Over here, TV stations buy stuff that is successful locally streaming and then it usually achieves mainstream success, but you can’t cross over if the rules differ.
Finally, a pox on anyone who says Varun can replace Govinda. Eternal pox!
But Malaal didn’t have a star, or a big song campaign, or a catchy plot you can summarize in one sentence. Which seems to be what they are calling for.
I just don’t think censorship makes that much difference with the kind of streaming content that is being produced. Whether or not the latest gritty Netflix feminist rape movie is censored, I still don’t want to watch it, because it’s a gritty Netflix feminist rape movie.
On Sun, May 31, 2020 at 1:59 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:
If that is all they want to release, instead of stuff I actually want to watch, then aside from the human cost, I don’t care if they close. I really don’t want another 6 million Salman or Salman-clone action movies.
I think if crossover was easier it would be interesting to see if it would make a difference. Stuff here doesn’t truly have an impact unless it’s on TV or in theatres, so crossover is important.
Anupama champions low-brow movies, really? I watch her reviews, but haven’t felt that. I remember when she loved Befikre, and people eviscerated her in the comments and still gets trolled for that!
I’m not sure what you’re trying to say here, isn’t Befikre a “mass” film?
Well, she loves Govinda at any rate, and reviews his stuff even when it’s the kind of thing nobody else bothers with. She has also written about the value of “mass” films using his stuff as examples. I mean, she’s probably not perfect but it’s weird to name her as the example when she at least has some track record of NOT doing this.
Befikre is the closest she came to giving a good review to a “mass” film in years, and she got massive blowback from her audience accusing her of selling out and being in the pay of the studios etc. etc. She completely ignored Govinda’s last 3 movies. It’s so sad! 20 years ago she was the first person to really champion mainstream Hindi films, and now she runs a website that seems to be dedicated to proving they are worthless.
Sometimes we talk here about just pretending there are two Anupama’s, the great writer and researcher from the 90s and 2000s, and then this new Anupama who started a website and is all about blind criticism and tearing things down.
On Sun, May 31, 2020 at 1:48 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:
Well, it’s sad she changed. Can’t blame her for ignoring his last movies, though, even I didn’t watch those, although I should probably watch Fry Day because it’s supposed to be good.
Two things that stuck out to me:
1. This is a very male vision of mass cinema. Only one person in the two long articles mentioned a woman film professional – Farah Khan – or movies like Karan’s that have strong female leads. No woman actors were mentioned in all the discussion of stars. If I were Sonam or Taapsee or Kat or Deepika or Anushka Sharma, I wouldn’t see much of a place for me at these theaters. This also confirms what you’ve been saying, but then who is in the audience at the single screens that only macho action movies qualify as mass entertainment? Is it a content problem or an audience problem that only one category of movie sells tickets?
2. The economic models of the studios and the single screens seem like they’re in conflict. If high production, tentpole type movies with big budgets and special effects are the ones that sell tickets, and the single screen operators want one of those per month, how is that sustainable for the creators? I don’t know about the total collections of Bang Bang or other movies that were considered underperforming, but does the fact that they made money for the single screens mean that they also made money for the creators?
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I didn’t see your comment before I commented, but your 1st point is exactly my concern! It paints a very sexist picture of the mass audience doesn’t it? What happened to the women and family audience of the 90s and 2000s, are they only restricted to the multiplexes or have stopped going altogether?
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Yeah, I had the same feeling. Back when she started, she did, but that’s almost 20 years ago now. Her website seems to be focused on tearing down anything popular and massy in favor of Western films.
On Sat, May 30, 2020 at 6:58 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:
I always love your comments on these posts! You challenge my industrial assumptions.
1. I think this is kind of a starting at the end issue, to my mind. Farah is the only female director making mass movies. But I think that is because the way the mass film industry is structured, it is less friendly to female directors than the more “multiplex” industry. Simple stuff, like mass directors learn by apprenticing on sets, and that can be a dangerous environment for women. The “class” directors are more likely to learn through schooling, or overseas training, safer for women. And the kind of stars they are talking about, those are stars of long standing, and there simply aren’t any female stars of that status. Maybe ten years from now one of the current actresses will reach that level, but not yet. The exhibitors are saying “these are the directors today who are making films that bring in crowds, these are the stars whose posters get attention in the lobby, that is what it is”. They have the raw data, they aren’t worrying about why it is.
2. I think the point is the same problem we have now with Hollywood, everything is either micro-budget, or mass-budget. Until the past 10 years, when international money and multiplexes became the norm, even the biggest “tentpole” movie didn’t cost that much. Koi Mil Gaya was made for 30 crore, War was made for 170 crore. How is that even possible? Where is the money going? The exhibitors are saying “this is what we need”, it’s up to the studios to make it happen, but they know it’s not impossible because it was the norm until recently.
On Sat, May 30, 2020 at 4:58 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:
1. I don’t think we can chalk all the male centric view to past hits. A few of them name Salman, one Aamir, one Shah Rukh, but if you look at the section where they talk about favorite stars there is a lot of love for Varun, Ranveer, Ranbir, Tiger, even a shout out to Emraan Hashmi. Hrithik is there, Akshay, but they talk a lot about younger actors and there are no women. The impression they give is that the audience doesn’t come out for the women actors. This is what made me wonder about who is in the audience.
2. Understood, but I think that also underestimates the challenge of making movies in a world where your audience is also watching Avengers and Fast and Furious movies. Expectations are higher, action budgets are bigger. Which goes back to the question of if there is any other genre that can fit the definition of massy. Because if you have to make expensive films to reach the whole audience, but collections from that audience won’t allow you to make a reliable profit from such a big budget production (knowing that not every movie will be a hit) then your options are to either make smaller budget films for a smaller part of the audience or go big on every film and risk losing your shirt if you go too long without a big hit. It’s not irrational to choose the first option.
Or I guess there’s the Telugu model of masala, but one person points out that people outside of the south watch those films on TV, they want something on a bigger scale if they’re going to pay for a ticket to the theater.
1. Good point, and they also mention the reliable fan clubs who help drive opening day celebrations. That would be an entirely male group, if the single screens need the fan clubs to keep them going then they are going to be looking more at the male stars who inspire that kind of loyalty.
2. I don’t know, I just don’t think the budgets the studios are used to now are justified. The Allu Arjun movie they mention doing really well in the dubbed version was made on a budget of 55 crore. Thugs of Hindostan had a massive budget, mostly for special effects, and it flopped. I think the audience responds to stars, and clever action, not expensive action. Simmba was 80 crore, Baaghi was only 37 crore. Both of them major single screen hits. The Indian audience doesn’t need the insane over the top action sequence centerpieces, they just want stars.
On Sun, May 31, 2020 at 1:26 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:
I’d be all for a return of character-driven action based on good scripts over special effects.
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My takeaway from all this is how as a viewer, I’m gonna be dissatisfied no matter what. The current Hindi movie output do not work for these exhibitors and neither do they appeal to me. But looking at their ideal movies, all male actioners like War, Baaghi, Singham, Dabangg, I’m like WTF! I enjoyed War but do I want 10 more of the same? There’s nothing for female actors to do in these. I know the industry has always been about the male superstars, but because majority of the hits and blockbusters of yesteryears were romantic dramas and comedies, female actors naturally had great parts. But if it becomes all about action now, they’ll just be cosmetic. This is why we need Yashji, Adi, Karan, even Farah! And instead we’ll be getting Rohit Shetty and Rakesh Roshan?!! If this is what the taste of mass audience has come to, I despair!
I’m surprised Ayushman is lumped in with multiplex actors! Isn’t he supposed to be the middle-class hero, what with his small-town comedies? Or is that only in the eyes of urban people, while the actual small-towners don’t care!
Regarding critics, I don’t believe the industry is hankering for their approval to the extent that it’s stated. How much reach do Anupama or Rajeev have beyond the english-speaking youtube audience? Reviews don’t even get to a million views and they’ll be the first to tell you that the audience at large doesn’t care about reviews. Also, critics have always been there, why this importance now?
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In the longer article, I think they specifically call out Aditya Chopra and Karan Johar as people who have made those films in the past, so that’s kind of a nod towards the non-action films. And they also discuss Bajrangi Bhaijaan as a movie that did everything right so far as I am concerned and which they point to as the best possible kind of film. But if I look back at the past few years, there’s no real massy film that isn’t an action film. They are saying these are the movies that bring in crowds, but I don’t think there is data in the past 2 years to show that a massy family movie wouldn’t also bring in crowds. Right? I’m guessing Prem Ratan Dhan Payo was also a hit, but that was years ago now, so they wouldn’t bring that up. It doesn’t sound like a firm line to me necessarily, just that the only people making mass movies now are mass action heroes and action directors.
I was surprised by Ayushmann too! But I’m taking this as the raw data. So there we go, proof that he is less “hero of the masses” and more “hero of the classes who like to think they are the masses”.
I don’t know if we can take the critics comments as raw data, because these are exhibitors, they don’t know what’s happening with the studios. But maybe they are seeing what we are seeing, the filmmakers are spending more time talking to critics and explaining themselves to critics than they seem to be caring about viewers. Why does every movie star in interviews name drop Queen and Anurag Kashyap and so on and so forth as their “favorites” instead of something massy? I do think critics are a lot different now, with social media it feels like an echo chamber, the critics views are repeated again and again until it seems like they are the “real” views, and the actual audience is forgotten.
On Sat, May 30, 2020 at 6:45 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:
Yeah, of course they acknowledge the non-action hits of the past, but their future outlook seems to be exclusively about action. You’re right, maybe they’re just reacting to what’s working now. They don’t mention historicals (except Bhansali) and biopics, aren’t those the current obsession? Also I wonder how Zoya’s films do in single-screens, they say ZNMD didn’t work, what about Gully Boy?
I was wondering about Gully Boy too! I would not be surprised if it did not do well. I loved it, but it’s not very Masala. Not the kind of movie you can dance in the aisles and whistle and cheer. Like, you have to actually pay attention to the dialogue and stuff.
I’m thinking biopics and historicals must be flopping if they don’t mention them. Based on my experience of having watched sooo many Hindi releases over the past few years, that doesn’t surprise me. the action genre is the one that is most Masala still, romance and songs and comedy all mixed in. And the most predictable, the one where you can enjoy the whole movie experience and talk and cheer and so on. There just aren’t movies in other genres that do that. So I wouldn’t say it is that they want more action movies, it’s that they want more Masala movies with songs and big name stars playing fun roles (not serious character parts, but fun stuff with big dialogue and stuff).
On Sun, May 31, 2020 at 12:17 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:
As an aside, what are some of the good hindi ‘masala’ movies in the past few years, apart from the SRK ones? I have to admit, when I want a dose of masala I’ll go straight to 70s Bachchan, Manmohan Desai! I only watched (and enjoyed) CE, HNY and Dilwale because I love Shahrukh (and Deepika, Kajol) from other things. I think for me the draw is not masala, but my favorite people doing masala! So the newer ones with these upcoming actors don’t appeal to me because I don’t have an attachment to them. Funny how we view things!
Mubarakan! Super fun movie. All the Dabanggs of course. Main Tera Hero from Varun. ABCD2 and Street Dancer 3D.
On Sun, May 31, 2020 at 10:59 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:
So in South India it is the A, B, C centre classification which is pretty much a urban vs rural divide. So you have movies that will run in B and C centres but not in A centres. Ravi Teja is called Mass Maharaja because his films usually have a good run in B and C centres. But even there content matters. It is not that anything will run. So I find the mass vs class difference a bit difficult to make sense of. The last couple of movies of Balakrishna flopped even though the movies were massy so to say. So I feel that all movies have a market but it is the nature of the industry that is killing it in Tamil and Telugu films.
There was one Southern single screen owner interviews, and they all agreed that in general single screens are doing better in the south than in the north. And that southern films are doing better in the single screens than Hindi films even in the Hindi territory.
I wonder if within the A, B, C center classifications there is still a sub-category of single screens versus multiplexes? maybe not, but part of what the article discusses is that some of those “flops” did really well specifically in single screen theaters, even if the multiplex down the road couldn’t sell tickets to them.
Yes, single screens have their loyal audience – many fans will go for a FDFS in a single screen but not a multiplex. Another part of this equation is the ticket cost – multiplex is expensive for most people. So now the talk is whether with the present situation multiplex owners will finally scale down the cost of parking, popcorn and such. This is the only way they will be able to continue attracting audience. Another aspect which often goes missing from these discussions is piracy. Other than die-hard fans others I am sure do not mind watching a pirated print on their phones rather than pay to watch it in theaters.
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Maybe a way to think about it is Starbucks coffee versus homemade? If single screen is Starbucks, it’s about the whole experience, going there with friends, having it as kind of a hang out place, making the experience so much better and different from being at home. It’s a little more expensive than making coffee at home, but it’s just better. So people will pay the difference if they can.
On the other hand, the multiplex is like gold sprinkled coffee sold for $30 a cup or something. It’s nice if you want to be that person who has gold sprinkled coffee, but if the choice is between $30 or drinking at home, you’ll drink at home. We need the Starbucks $3 coffee option to give you that nice experience without breaking the bank.
A very, very interesting article…and in big parts it agrees with your idea, you often voiced, Margaret.
It’s the first time in recent years, single-screen exhibitors/owners were interviewed in an extensive way with so many issues explored.
I fully agree that the Indian (mass-/single screen audience) strongly differs from the multiplex audience…I experienced both…and gosh, what a difference (the latter being much more westernized). It would be a great step forward if a woman/women centric masala movie would made with a look at single screen audiences. Yet I could picture Katrina as a lead in a cop or kind of warrior movie with a lot of humour and a solid love story.
I understand the arguments and I see the dilemma of those stars who want to do things differently…and especially (as he is my main interest) ShahRukh’s dilemma.
Some years ago, he had the idea (rightly, I thought) to do 2 to 3 movies a year…one for the masses, one for himself and one as a support. It was an idea that would have met the ideas voiced in the article.
The article points to Salman as the best most reliable current star, and he is also the one who tends to make the most movies per year of the big names. The article is from the theater perspective, they just want more big name films. But it bounces up, if more movies are out, the star power is more likely to stay in place as people remember the name and face.
I agree that a female lead film could do great, so long as it stays in the Masala genre. I don’t think the article is necessarily saying anything different, they have two arguments, Masala movies work, and there are certain stars who have a following. Right now there are no female stars with that kind of following, but doesn’t mean there won’t be in future, especially if they get a chance with the right kind of Masala movies.
On Sun, May 31, 2020 at 1:48 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:
I think the article is missing the hugely important point that when the masses get internet access to films, they desert theaters. We’ve seen it in the US. I know that internet access in India isn’t anywhere near what it is in the US or other parts of the world but in the places where people do have the ability to watch the films they want on mobile, they choose to do that. No more haggling with your family or friends over what to watch. Always available in the palm of your hand. A lot of this is not a content issue, it’s a medium issue. Like cable crippled broadcast and now streaming is crippling theaters in the US. Even if the industry went full massy, would the masses who are streaming videos on their mobiles bother going back to the theaters? I don’t see it. I say pay attention to what the masses with internet are actually doing and what they are doing is social media, YouTube and streaming films, often pirated.
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I think Reliance Jio has changed this to a large extent. 4G speed internet is available in most places in India now and it perhaps explains why Facebook and others are picking up stakes in Jio Platforms. So it will be interesting to see what they do with their internet reach. Initially they offered free internet in the name testing but I think they obviously have collected massive amounts of data on what people are watching.
And at some point, Jio has to raise their rates. I am assuming like every other company, they are just waiting until they have a total monopoly, and then they will slowly start increasing prices. If they do that, and if they stick with the pricing per data usage system, then movies will be the first to go for the internet customers since they take up sooooooo much more data in comparison with everything else.
Just to add on something I researched for a post a while back, the pricing per data point. Jio is really the only system that has a hope of providing internet to India, satellite based pay per data toggles. So no worries about building infrastructure to provide internet, or about convincing people to pay a flat monthly fee and then cutting them on and off and on and off when they can’t pay it. Only way you could do internet for the great masses.
The cost for one movie streaming (paying per data) is just barely less than the cost of a single screen movie ticket. And that’s with Jio, the cheapest internet provider (whose rates will doubtless blow up once they manage to kill the competition). Way way less than a multiplex ticket, but just slightly less than a single screen. And that’s talking purely data usage, not Netflix subscription or whatever. So if you can find the movie you want, for free, online, you can download it onto your phone for the same cost as a movie ticket. And then your whole family can watch together. Piracy has been around for years and years, but not internet based. “File sharing” would be literally passing around a thumb drive, no one has the data to download a movie from the internet.
Because of that, I see streaming undercutting multiplexes long before single screens. The single screen tickets have only a very slight disadvantage in both price and convenience. On the one hand, you have to go to the theater to see the movie, and you have to pay for a ticket for yourself and the rest of your family. But on the other hand, you would have to save money to buy a phone, set up a Jio account, and then pay the same price as a ticket for the data usage to stream the film. It might be easier to just walk over to the theater conveniently located in your lower income area, and pay for a ticket. Or at least easy enough that you would still want to do it on a regular basis in addition to streaming.
It’s also (and this is something filmmakers have talked about in India for decades) a matter that the cost of internet data points, or a movie ticket, is literally being held against money for food when you start talking single screen. If I have a choice between eating dinner tonight and seeing a movie in the theaters, or eating dinner tonight and seeing a movie on my phone, I think I might be more likely to go for the theater? If I’m giving up a meal, I want a whole experience for it, not just sitting home feeling hungry and staring at the phone.
But a phone isn’t just a movie streaming device. The value of a phone is enormous for poor people. A phone connects you to family & friends, job opportunities, food, etc. I knew people on Skid Row in Los Angeles with cell phones and Facebook accounts. So you have this amazing multipurpose communication device that literally connects you to the world and makes it easier for you to meet a lot of your basic needs…and you can also watch movies on it. That’s why once people get the device they default to watching the films on it rather than go to the theater. They’re already online so often to do other things and once you’re there it’s much easier to just stay home and find a film to watch. The inertia takes over.
Like I said, you just need to see what has happened in every country that has Internet and streaming media. It doesn’t matter how massy or good the content is. The theater owners in that article were praising Hollywood’s massy content, meanwhile theaters in the US are dying too despite that content.