by Smriti Vijay (’25) | February 14, 2022
The COVID-19 pandemic created a high demand for entertainment; however, live productions and in-person attendance were no longer plausible due to the risk of spreading the virus. The sharp decline of in-person entertainment attendance, coupled with the sharp increase of at-home entertainment, presented a change in the way people enjoy entertainment and made a permanent impact on the entertainment industry as a whole.
With social distancing at the forefront of people’s minds, a lack of demand for live entertainment resulted in the closure of many theaters. In film, the Motion Picture Association THEME report found that the global box office market in 2020 was $12 billion, a shocking 72 percent drop from 2019’s total. In addition, the global theatrical market was worth $80.8 billion in 2020, a 19 percent decrease from the previous year’s record high of $98.3 billion. On the music side of entertainment, live music was abruptly canceled, and performances plummeted in numbers, gathering 74.4 percent less revenue in 2020 than 2019.
People’s fear of the virus and a subsequent lack of in-person entertainment contributed to the major losses in the entertainment industry. We also saw, however, the clamor for entertainment from the safety of our own homes. The global home and mobile entertainment market alone reached $68.8 billion in 2020, a 23 percent increase compared to 2019. The number of subscriptions to online streaming services, such as Netflix and Disney+, shot up to 1.1 billion during the pandemic, 26 percent more than the amount in 2019.
Functioning as another form of at-home entertainment, digital recorded music saw an increase in revenue as well. Businesses saw opportunity in the face of tragedy: drive-in movie theaters fueled the pandemic box office, and virtual concerts and screenings increased in popularity.
Corporate solutions to pandemic entertainment didn’t come without controversy. Warner Brothers, for example, simultaneously released Marvel’s Black Widow in streaming and cinema. While the movie thrived off its Disney+ feature, lead actress Scarlett Johansson sued the company, citing a loss of personal salary as a result of the concurrent release. Her salary, similar to many actors’ salaries, included added bonuses dependent on the movie’s box office performance. The option of watching at home removed the incentive to go to the movies, and as a result, there was a decline in box office profits at the expense of both movie theaters and actors like Johansson.
Black Widow’s release also sparked a different discussion: why was Johansson, the lead actress in one of Marvel’s few female-led films, one of the only Marvel actors who took a pay cut due to streaming? Shang-Chi, a Marvel movie that featured a male lead, was released only in theaters a mere two months after Black Widow’s release—allowing lead actor Simu Liu to keep any profits that hinged on box office success. Other actresses faced similar problems as well: Emma Stone and Emily Blunt are reportedly considering their own profit loss-related lawsuits involving their roles in Disney movies that were released in theaters and through streaming services. Additionally, Gal Gadot faced the same issue with her movie Wonder Woman 1984 at the start of the pandemic. However, she was granted a ten-million-dollar bonus as compensation for any profits lost.
Even with the hardships faced by the film industry as a result of the pandemic, the World Economic Forum projected a steady increase in digital and live music revenue, enough to get past the 2020 slumber and surpass 2019 numbers. A PwC analysis on trends in entertainment shows the acceleration of the already growing digital market due to the pandemic. Video games and virtual reality soared in popularity while traditional TV and home video as well as newspapers lost wind.
Although the entertainment industry is predicted to return to a pre-COVID normal, trends that developed during the pandemic will soldier on. Increased data consumption promises upgraded machinery, pushing technologies like 5G connection to essential rather than just wanted.
Multiple projections guarantee the revival of the entertainment industry. Even so, the numbers have prompted entertainment companies to deliberate on the various avenues the pandemic has opened. With the addition of streaming services as a replacement for traditional cinema, a new entertainment world is on the rise.