A couple enjoying a movie in 500 Days of Summer

Is streaming killing the theatrical exhibition industry? It’s a question that has been asked many times, and with increasing frequency in recent years, it’s a reasonable one to ask. The proliferation of streaming services and the Peak TV era have given consumers a compelling buffet of all-you-can-watch content that presumably might remove any need or incentive to ever seek entertainment from the traditional theatrical exhibition model. Yet, despite this thinking, it turns out that people who stream are still seeing movies in the theater.

This is based on a new study done for the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) by EY’s Quantitative Economics and Statistics (QUEST) group. The study used a survey to try and understand the relationship between streaming and theatergoing, and whether consumption of the former impacted attendance of the latter.

As part of the study, 2,015 people who saw at least one movie in theaters in the last 12 months and 505 who did not were surveyed. What was found was that people who stream on services like Netflix, Amazon Video, HBO, Hulu, etc, also go to the theater. The survey dubbed these types of people ‘dual-consumers.’ Moreover, it was found that those who go to the theater to see movies more often are also more likely to consume streaming content more frequently.

The results from the survey shows that on average, the more theater visits consumers have per year, the higher their average hours are spent streaming content per week. Across every race and age demographic surveyed, the average hours spent streaming content per week were higher for those who saw a movie in theaters nine times in 12 months than those who went to a theater only once.

Those surveyed who did not go to the movies at a theater at all in the last 12 months reported less streaming activity than those who attended the theater at least once in the same period. Furthermore, for consumers who did not go to the theater at all in the last 12 months, nearly half (47%) did not stream any online content.

There is a lot more to the study that breaks things down by age and race demographics, but the main bullet point is this: there appears to be a positive relationship between streaming content consumption and movie theater attendance. Basically, streaming is not taking away from theatrical attendance, and those who stream more are more likely to go to the theater more often.

To hammer this point home, of those 468 respondents surveyed who only visited a movie theater one to two times in the last 12 months, 35% of them streamed one to three hours of content a week, with only 15% streaming 15 hours or more. On the opposite end of the spectrum, for the 382 respondents that saw nine or more movies in theaters over the last 12 months, 35% spent 15 hours or more a week streaming, and only 12% spent one to three hours streaming.

Dual-consumers who watch more movies in theaters are more likely to stream more content, and those who spend more time streaming are more likely to see more movies theatrically. There may be limited hours in the day, but those who stream more or go to the movies more are simply spending more of their available time on this type of entertainment overall.

For those consumers who aren’t going to the theater, it isn’t because they are at home binging tons of content. They may be occupying their time with traditional television or something else, but streaming specifically does not seem to be depressing movie theater attendance.

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This is merely a survey and not necessarily representative of the country as a whole, but the results are still encouraging and in line with what this same study showed in 2018 and 2019 as well. If movie theater attendance is down, streaming does not appear to be the culprit.

While that positive relationship between streaming and theatergoing is the most relevant and important to theater owners, this study had some other interesting information to parse as well.

Based on the results of the EY Quest survey, there does not appear to be any real difference in terms of what people choose to stream based on how often they go to the theater. Namely, for those who saw only one to two movies over 12 months, the streaming content they consumed was 41% movies, 43% TV series and 16% others. For those who saw nine or more movies in theaters, 42% of what they streamed was movies, 45% TV series and 14% others.

So dual-consumers weren’t streaming more movies because they went to the theater less, or fewer movies because they went to the theater more.

Lastly, it seems that consumers are more likely to stream a movie if they know it is released in theaters. Among those surveyed who were always or usually aware of a film’s theatrical release, 62% reported that they were more likely to stream it knowing that it was released in theaters. This could reflect a heightened awareness thanks to the marketing of theatrical releases, but it could also indicate a bias towards theatrical release movies and more positive perception of them.

We may have an incomplete picture given the ever-changing entertainment landscape, but it seems that more voracious consumers are seeking out content wherever it is available, and the rise of streaming services is not the threat it appears to theatrical exhibition.

To see what movies you can check out theatrically this year, take a look at our 2020 Release Schedule.

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