The Irish are the most frequent cinema-goers in Europe. Arnoldas Jursys investigates if this will last with the rise of streaming services.
What does a visit to the cinema mean to you? A chance to bond with friends and family? An opportunity to shyly put your arm around your crush or a chance to stuff your face with popcorn without shame or judgement?
The cinema offers an escape from the stresses of the world around us. The cinema was there for me in the time leading up to my Leaving Cert. With the pressures of this ‘life-changing’ event constantly looming over me, there was nothing better than writing a fake note to get out of Irish class, legging it to the 4 pm screening of the latest release and letting myself get washed over in darkness as the opening credits of the film appeared on-screen.
The scent of cinema popcorn can stir up delightful nostalgia for most of us. We remember the fear of navigating from the counter to the screen whilst carrying massive buckets of the stuff, as well as equally massive buckets of Coke, trying our best not to drop anything. Now, we try our best to not get caught sneaking in bags of Manhattan popcorn thanks to the price of the bloody stuff.
Many of us had our first love at the cinema. How could we forget the days of looking at a teenage heartthrob or femme fatale on the big screen and contemplating that boys or girls weren’t quite as icky as we might have first thought? Nobody will ever forget that kiss from 2002’s Spiderman.
Whatever your reason is for going to the movies, most Irish people are still choosing to do so and admission rates have been rising. Ireland now has the highest cinema-going rate in Europe at an average of 3.3 admissions per person per year, equal with France, according to The International Union of Cinemas (UNIC) annual report.
Ireland now has the highest cinema-going rate in Europe at an average of 3.3 admissions per person per year.
This comes at a time when the popularity of streaming services such as Netflix is growing year on year. There has been debate about whether streaming services will eclipse cinemas one day. During this summer’s Cannes Film Festival, a controversy developed over the festival’s refusal to allow films produced by Netflix, Amazon, etc. to be considered. This was on the grounds that they do not receive French theatrical releases.
Mark Kermode, a well-regarded English film and television critic, discussed this controversy in his YouTube vlog Kermode Uncut. His opinion is that the future of cinema will be one of simultaneous distribution, where films will be released both in cinemas and streaming services at the same time, and that the film industry simply must adapt to this duality.
Kermode asked his viewers the question of what separates “streaming versus screening.” Some of the answers he received referred to cinemas having a “communal experience,” this feeling that the group of people sitting in the theatre with you are experiencing the same events as you. This community can cheer together at the triumph of Harry over Voldemort, laugh together during a Monty Python film, or be utterly confused together at what is even happening in Inception.
The sense of community that cinema generates stands as superior to the isolating effects of streaming services. What do streaming services have going for them? Their on-demand nature means you can watch what you want, when you want and where you want, and there’s no fuss over scheduling conflicts or release periods. With a press of a button, you’re off.
Secondly, the cinema experience is not all the romanticised heaven we hear so much about. The “communal environment” can act as a con as well as a pro. How many screenings have you been to with a bunch of kids talking through the entire film? How many times have you had to sit beside someone making all the noise in the world trying to open their chocolate bar? Most recently I remember being annoyed at a crying child during the Jungle Book. Was it my fault for being there? No, it was an evening showing and that child had no right to be there, fight me!
Streaming services are a blessing in disguise for the Irish film industry and potentially for cinema in general.
Streaming services will remain as an alternative to cinema. Cinema has survived VHS, DVD, Blu Ray, online piracy, you name it. Cinema will survive Netflix. That said, the power and significance of streaming services cannot be overstated either. They provide an alternative to traditional means of film distribution, allowing films to reach a wider audience.
This has certainly not been lost on Irish film distributors. A quick search for Irish films on Netflix America brings up the Young Offenders, Sing Street, Handsome Devil and much more. Of course, these films also saw a theatrical release, but streaming allows them to reach an audience they might not be able to through traditional means. Streaming services are a blessing-in-disguise for the Irish film industry and potentially for cinema in general. We just need to accept, adapt, and embrace it.
Does your visit to the cinema make a better experience than watching the film in the comfort of your own home? Can you justify paying the same amount to see one film as you would pay for unlimited movies on Netflix for a month? We all have our preferences, but there’s room for both.