Carbondale movie theaters battle streaming services after pandemic

Carbondale movie theaters are back with a wave of new and popular films, but after growing accustomed to streaming movies instantly online, many college students are choosing a cozy night at home over a trip to the theater.

 Peyton Cook, a freshman at SIU-C, said she prefers streaming services because of the convenience of being in control of her surroundings.

 “You don’t have to rush, you can pause it if you want to, you can go get snacks,” Cook said.

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 Jessica Clark, a senior at SIU-C, said she believes streaming services are more accommodating for people with disorders that make it difficult to sit still and pay attention for long periods of time in public.

 “I like not having to sit down and watch it because I have ADHD,” Clark said. “I’d rather do something while watching the movie.”

 In addition to offering more freedom for people with attention deficit disorders, streaming services also allow for easier access to closed captioning, language options and other modifications for people who do not benefit from traditional theater settings.

Cook and Clark also noted cost as a significant factor, particularly for college students. 

While buying a movie ticket and popcorn at AMC may cost over $20, movies are often available on Hulu or HBO for only a few dollars.

Safety in the midst of COVID-19 also remains an issue.

Though Carbondale’s theaters are enforcing masks and social distancing as well as sanitizing regularly, staying home provides a much more secure guarantee that no one will be exposed.

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 VIP Cinema’s Director of Operations Josh Ward, who oversees the Carbondale 8 theater in the mall, said he feels confident streaming services will never be able to overtake traditional cinemas. 

Ward said he believes the unique atmosphere of going out with friends, eating buttery popcorn and seeing premieres of the latest box office hits can never be replaced by a streaming service.

 “We believe that movie theaters will be back stronger than ever after the pandemic. People like to have things to do outside of their home, and a night out at the movies is a tradition for most families,” Ward said. “Right now, streaming services do impact us greatly, but as people become more comfortable being out in public, we should be able to move past the impact.”

 Clark said the experience of being in a room full of people and being able to hear the laughter, tears, gasps and comments of the audience adds another layer to the entertainment of a movie.

 “I will always remember when I went to see the last movie of the Twilight series and everybody’s reaction when Carlisle got his head cut off,” Clark said. “You cannot replace that.”

 For many college students, there is also a certain nostalgia associated with movie theaters that makes them appealing. 

Clark said she remembers attending birthday parties with her childhood friends at her hometown theater in Nashville, Illinois.

 “The biggest thing when you were a kid was going to see the newest movie,” Clark said. “My favorites were all the Christmas movies when they came out during Christmas. We loved it.”

 Ward said while movie theaters certainly do have an aspect of nostalgia, there are also plenty of new and exciting additions to modern theaters that keep the experience exciting and entertaining.

Private theater rentals, for instance, allow a group of people to rent out a whole theater for themselves, minimizing the risk of COVID-19 and allowing more freedom to talk and move around.

 “Private theater rentals have been crucial for making it through the last year,” Ward said. “We offer them for as low as $150. They have been quite popular for people who want the night out experience without dealing with other people.”

 Despite the battle with streaming services, Ward expects cinemas to remain a staple of the college students’ night out. He invites all Carbondale residents to visit Carbondale 8 for a fun and safe start to the new semester.

 “We are confident movie theaters are here to stay,” Ward said. “Our business model has proven successful for years and we as a company are growing, even during COVID. We offer the cheapest prices around, a clean environment and great customer service to all customers.”

 Staff reporter Elena Schauwecker can be reached at [email protected]

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