The Margin: 70% of people would rather watch movies at home, even if theaters reopen: survey

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After more than two months spent sheltering in place during the pandemic, many Americans have grown more comfortable entertaining themselves at home.

In fact, if new movies were available in both theaters and on streaming services for the same price right now, 70% of people would still choose to stream the first-run feature at home over going to a movie theater, according to a new survey published in Variety. A mere 13% said they would prefer to catch the new release at the cinema, and 17% weren’t sure.

And that fear could linger for some time. More than one-third (37%) of respondents said that they will go to movie theaters less often in the future, and 10% said they may never go to the cinema again.

The survey of about 1,000 people conducted in mid-May by sports and events analytics firm Performance Research, in partnership with Full Circle Research Co., found that anxieties about health and safety in crowded, public places trumps the growing urge to get out of the house that’s been seen in scattered protests across the country.

Related:My state is reopening restaurants and movie theaters. Am I selfish if I go, or am I selfish if I stay home?

And this hesitation goes beyond movie blockbusters. Even after the CDC and local governments say it’s safe to take in a Broadway show or rock out at an indoor concert, 52% of respondents said that they will go to fewer large public events in the future, which is up from the 44% who said the same in a similar survey in March. And this month, 60% of respondents revealed that attending a big public event “will scare me for a long time,” which is up from 47% in March.

“Just as the country begins to open up there has been a swing toward increasing caution, with a majority of Americans clearly saying ‘not yet’ when it comes to attending large public events,” Jed Pearsall, president of Performance Research, told Variety.

What would make people feel safe about going out again? A cure for COVID-19, according to the 90% of respondents who said that would be the most important factor in luring them out to public venues again. Some 61% of respondents said that mandatory face mask rules would increase their likelihood of attending public events, and most people called for venues limiting crowds to 60% capacity.

The pandemic has upended the theater industry this spring as lockdowns have closed cinemas and other entertainment venues across the globe, and people have settled in to entertaining themselves at home.

Related:Coke’s sales fizzle as coronavirus keeps customers from convenience stores, movie theaters and activities

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences even changed its longstanding rule that movies must have a theatrical release to be eligible for an Academy Award. For this year only, movies that premiered on a streaming service without a theatrical run can be eligible for an Oscar. Previously, flicks needed to have at least a seven-day theatrical run in a Los Angeles County commercial theater.

And when Universal Pictures made the animated kids movie “Trolls World Tour” immediately available for digital rentals (for $19.95) last month after the pandemic scrapped its planned theatrical release, the studio earned more than $100 million — none of which had to be shared with theater operators, although the streaming services got about a 20% cut. That was more than the studio earned off the previous “Trolls” movie after five months in theaters in 2016.

And that isn’t sitting well with many theater owners, especially after NBCUniversal’s CMCSA, -0.95% CEO recently told The Wall Street Journal that the entertainment company plans to release future movies directly to premium video on demand (PVOD) services in tandem with theatrical release. AMC Entertainment AMC, -1.29%, the world’s largest movie-theater chain, responded with an open letter banning Universal movies from its theaters, including the anticipated “Jurassic World: Dominion” next summer. Cineworld CNNWF, -14.52% Group’s Regal chain also said it won’t show any films that don’t give theaters the standard first-run 90-day exclusive.

Read more:AMC vows to bar Universal movies from its theaters after video-on-demand comments

There could be some light on the horizon for AMC, at least: the cinema chain reportedly held merger talks with Amazon AMZN, -1.32% recently.

Or the pandemic fallout could fuel the return of an antiquated form of entertainment: the drive-in. What better way to practice social distancing while catching a flick than to watch it from inside your own car? Yankee Stadium will reportedly become a drive-in movie theater this summer, Time Out New York reported, with events planned for each weekend beginning in July.

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