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Streaming services dominate movie theater industry, local Chicago theaters respond

As streaming services dominate headlines, local Chicago theaters are doing what they can to attract business and encourage moviegoers to attend films in person. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, movie theaters closed, and streaming services grew in popularity. Even though theaters are open again, streaming has continued to grow, and local Chicago movie theaters make attempts to boost attendance. 

Research company Statista found that 83% of consumers own a streaming service in 2022. Statista also found in August 2022 that 55% of adults prefer watching movies at home, compared to 37% who would prefer watching movies in theaters. 

Major streaming platforms are making big changes. According to Forbes, Paramount+ and Showtime recently announced that they will be combining into one app. Discovery+ and HBO Max will be merging into one app as well. 

After losing subscribers for the first time in a decade, Netflix announced they will be releasing a cheaper, ad-supported subscription option by the end of 2022. Disney+ announced they will be releasing a similar option. 

Ryan Oestreich, general manager of The Music Box Theatre, says that there has always been a movie theater aspect of film as well as an at-home aspect. Whether it be straight to VHS or streaming, theaters have always had an at-home alternative. 

Oestreich says that the problem is when these two sides are not collaborative. 

“The reality is it seems like the streamers kind of hold all the power,” Oestreich said. “So, how does it affect a little independent Chicago [theater]? Greatly, because if the streamer doesn’t care about me, I have no market power to make them pay attention to me. I’m not an AMC or Regal that has 10,000 locations.” 

Buck LePard, marketing manager for The Music Box Theatre, says that what they are doing to attract business now is not very different from what they did before the pandemic began. 

“I think our programming appeals to very broad audiences, and whenever we do stuff, we try to think of ways we can make it a unique film going experience and give people something a little bit extra to make it worth their while to come out,” LePard said. 

Rebecca Fons, director of programming at the Gene Siskel Film Center, says that to attract business now, theaters like the Gene Siskel rely heavily on showing films that audiences won’t be able to watch anywhere else. 

“You just do things to kind of set yourself apart, just to make it more special. And sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t,” Fons said. “Sometimes you work really, really hard to make something 

special and the 20 people in the audience really appreciate it, but you’re like, ‘I really wanted like 200 people’.” 

Charles Coleman, film program director at Facets Multimedia, says that with the convenience of the Internet having movies always available, many people don’t feel the urge to go out and see a movie like they used to. 

“It’s like being in Paris and there’s the Eiffel Tower. You know it’s there, so you don’t have to go. But you’re from out of town or out of the country, you travel there to see it,” Coleman said. 

Despite the convenience of streaming services, Fons says the two things viewers get from seeing a film in person that they won’t get from streaming a movie at home is the sense of community and the curation. 

“We put thought into literally every single film, every single showtime, every single thing we do before the lights go down. Even when the lights go down it is a choice,” Fons said. 

“When you choose to come see a movie…many dedicated, very passionate people have made choices and hope that you do that; that you come out and you see a film and you enjoy it, or you come away feeling something new or something different,” Fons said.

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