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Omicron Surge Impacts Movie Business With Smaller Theater Audiences 

Has the recent jump in COVID-19 cases due to the Omicron variant kept U.S. movie fans from heading to the theater?

New survey data from Whip Media suggests it has. 

Whip Media — after surveying more than 1,200 American users of its TV Time app, a free TV and movie tracking app with more than 20 million global users — found the Omicron surge has had a direct impact on the habits of movie fans. 

Jeni Hatfield Benhain

The key takeaway: 57% of respondents said they have skipped going to see a movie in theaters due to the recent increase in COVID-19 cases.

This holds true for both regular moviegoers as well as those who rarely make it to the movies; of the 611 frequent moviegoers surveyed — defined as those who went to the cinema at least once per month before the pandemic started — 58% said they’ve passed on going to see a movie in the theater that they were interested in. 

There’s also been a major shift in how fans approach films they are undecided about seeing. Whip Media’s survey found 69% of respondents are more likely to purchase and watch a movie in their home they’re “on the fence” about, rather than go to watch it at a theater. 

This is a stark increase from just last summer, when a comparable Whip Media survey found about 50% of respondents said they were more likely to purchase and watch a movie at home that they weren’t sure about. Studios appear to be watching this shift closely, too, with big-budget films like Morbius, starring Jared Leto and Michael Keaton, having its release date pushed back from late January to April 1. Disney has also changed its strategy for its upcoming Pixar release Turning Red, ditching its theatrical release in favor of an exclusive showing on Disney+ beginning March 11. 

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Whip Media’s survey results come as other polls have found concerns over COVID-19 have increased in recent weeks. One Gallup poll, conducted between Jan. 3 and Jan. 14, found 56% of Americans have avoided large crowds in the past week due to their fear of catching the coronavirus; that’s a higher percentage than at any point since vaccines have become widely available last spring, according to Gallup.

Still, there are signs of optimism from moviegoers. Nearly 60% of respondents said they are “likely” or “very likely” to go see a movie in the theater within the next six months. 

That figure could increase in the next few weeks, too, if the Omicron surge peaks and then starts to decline. Data this week from New York City, Cleveland and Washington, D.C. (among other major American cities) shows the seven-day average of cases has declined — suggesting the Omicron wave may have already crested. 

And one thing, of course, that’ll help drive fans back to the theater is a blockbuster movie they feel they have to see on the silver screen. We’ve already seen this with Spider-Man: No Way Home, which has climbed to $1.69 billion at the global box office since being released in December 2021. 

The best bet to shake off Omicron fears and have a strong box office performance is The Batman. The latest Dark Knight flick — starring Robert Pattinson and set to come out on March 4 — looks poised to drive fans to the theater. Of more than 1,000 respondents who said they are interested in seeing The Batman, 61% said they prefer to see it in a movie theater — the highest percentage of any major film coming out in the next few months. 

Jeni Hatfield Benhain is director of data solutions at Whip Media, whose enterprise software and data platform enables media companies to efficiently distribute, control and monetize their TV and movie content to drive revenue and direct-to-consumer growth. With her extensive knowledge of consumer audience analytics, she is charged with developing data-driven growth strategies for the world’s largest entertainment organizations including major SVOD services, networks and studios. 

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