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. 

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

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. 

The Show Must Go On, CES 2022 Organizers Say

CES 2022 remains on track to touch down in Las Vegas next week for the first time in two years, despite surging Omicron infections and a series of high-profile tech-firm exits.

In an email sent to Media Play News late Monday, Dec. 27, a spokesperson for the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), which produces the annual technology show, said, “Yes, the show is proceeding.” CES 2022 takes place Jan. 5 – 8 at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

The spokesperson provided the following statement: “Over 2,200 companies are confirmed to participate in person at CES 2022 in Las Vegas. Our focus remains on convening the tech industry and giving those who cannot attend in person the ability to experience the magic of CES digitally.”

According to the statement, “comprehensive health measures” have been put into place, including a vaccination requirement, masking and free COVID-19 testing. And that, along with “lower attendance and social distancing measures,” makes the CTA  “confident that attendees and exhibitors can have a socially distanced but worthwhile and productive event in Las Vegas, or while experiencing it online,” according to the trade association.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

The spokesperson also provided a statement from Dr. Tony Slonim, president and CEO of Renown Health in Reno, Nev., who said, “With the recent climate, many people have been working remotely and creating virtual relationships. That’s OK, the work gets done, but for me, nothing is better than meeting in person.

“CES 2022 brings together progressive thinkers and energetic pioneers who are passionate about bringing technology to the world and improving lives. That has never been more important than it is today. The good news is we are now more prepared than ever to keep people safe, which is the top priority for CES. I am impressed that the Consumer Technology Association, our hotels, the Las Vegas conference venues and the city of Las Vegas have worked diligently to put every contemporary safety practice in place to ensure a healthy and successful in-person meeting this year.

“I encourage you to join me in attending CES 2022, adhering to the requirements, building new relationships, and supporting the innovators, professions and industries integral to our future.”

Last week, in the days leading up to Christmas, 42 exhibitors dropped out due to concerns over the Omicron variant. Among them: Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Meta (Facebook), Intel and TikTok. T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert canceled his keynote address, while General Motors chief Mary Barra will deliver her keynote address virtually rather than in-person.

On Dec. 22, the CTA issued a press release in which it stated the show will proceed despite the cancellations.

Two days later, on Christmas Eve, CTA president and CEO Gary Shapiro wrote in a LinkedIn post, “CES will and must go on. It will have many more small companies than large ones. It may have big gaps on the show floor. Certainly, it will be different from previous years. It may be messy. But innovation is messy. It is risky and uncomfortable …

“As we look to CES 2022, we confront a tough choice. If we cancel the show, we will hurt thousands of smaller companies, entrepreneurs and innovators who have made investments in building their exhibits and are counting on CES for their business, inspiration and future. If we do not cancel, we face the drumbeat of press and other critics who tell the story only through their lens of drama and big name companies.

“We are mindful of concerns that CES could be an event where the Omicron variant can spread. We are leading the way in requiring masks and vaccines, recommending testing and offering free tests. No one wants to get sick. … But with significant safety measures and fewer people, there is plenty of space for attendees to socially distance. We have consulted with experts, both medical and analytical, and have been advised that with our health and safety protocols infections should be minimal.   

“I will feel safer at CES with our vaccine and masking mandate than I do when I’m running every day errands, including food shopping!”

CES went virtual in January 2021, but as a winter COVID-19 surge began to ebb and movie theaters and other businesses began to reopen, the CTA on April 28 announced CES 2022 would once again be held in person in Las Vegas in January 2022.

The last in-person CES, in January 2020, attracted 171,268 attendees and 4,419 exhibitors. The CTA earlier had said the 2022 event will be much smaller, with 40,000 to 60,000 attendees and around 2,200 exhibitors.


Despite Rash of High-Profile Cancellations, CES Organizers Vow to Press On — For Now

After a flurry of high-profile exhibitors such as Google, Microsoft, Meta (Facebook), Intel and TikTok dropped out of CES 2022 last week over Omicron variant concerns, show organizers nevertheless vowed to press on with an in-person event in Las Vegas.

In a press release issued three days before Christmas, the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) reiterated its intent to proceed with the show, scheduled for Jan. 5-8 in Las Vegas, despite what it said were 42 exhibitor cancellations. 

Since then, there’s been no further communication from the CTA, leading to widespread speculation that plans are still in flux. The latest daily email briefing from VPO/PR Newswire’s dedicated online press page for CES, issued late Sunday, Dec. 26, had just two press releases from exhibitors. And on social media, particularly Twitter, calls for the CTA to cancel the show appear to be mounting, with #cancelCES an increasingly popular hashtag.

In a Dec. 22 news release, CTA said the show will proceed as scheduled “with strong safety measures in place, and our digital access is also available for people that don’t wish to, or can’t travel to Las Vegas. Our mission remains to convene the industry and give those who cannot attend in person the ability to experience the magic of CES digitally.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!
“While we recently received 42 exhibitor cancelations (less than 7% of our exhibit floor), since last Friday we’ve added 60 new exhibitors for our in person event. Registrations for both our digital access and our Las Vegas event are continuing to show strong momentum, with thousands more registrations in the last few days. … We have increased our official count to over 2,200 exhibitors. …

“Given CES’s comprehensive health measures — vaccination requirement, masking and availability of COVID-19 tests — coupled with lower attendance and social distancing measures, we are confident that attendees and exhibitors can have a socially distanced but worthwhile and productive event in Las Vegas, as well as a rewarding experience on our digital access.”

CES went virtual in January 2021, but as a winter COVID-19 surge began to ebb and movie theaters and other businesses began to reopen, the CTA on April 28 announced CES 2022 would once again be held in person in Las Vegas in January 2022.

At the time, CTA president and CEO Gary Shapiro said in a statement, “We’re thrilled to return to Las Vegas — home to CES for more than 40 years — and look forward to seeing many new and returning faces. Hundreds of executives have told us how much they need CES to meet new and existing customers, find partners, reach media and discover innovation.” 

Several media outlets, including TechCrunch and The Verge, also have said they will not send reporters to the show. Media Play News editors still plan on attending.

Organizers of the Pepcom Digital Experience, held in concert with CES at the Mirage hotel, announced they are also still planning an in-person event — though they plan to add a live-streaming presentation.

“Happily, most of you have told us you can still attend,” read an email. “But for those who cannot, we will be streaming the event live from 7-10 p.m. PT on Jan. 4.”

‘Dune’ Home Entertainment Release Party Canceled Due to Omicron Concerns

A party to celebrate the Jan. 11 DVD, Blu-ray Disc and 4K Ultra HD release of Dune has been canceled due to concerns over the Omicron variant.

On Dec. 17, journalists received, by email, an invitation to a Jan. 4 release party at the Bar Lis at the Thompson in Hollywood. A reception was scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m., followed by a performance by Hans Zimmer, the film’s composer, at 7 p.m.

The party, jointly hosted by Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures, also was to feature appearances by director, producer and co-writer Denis Villeneuve; writers Jon Spaihts and Eric Roth; director of photography Greig Fraser; editor Joe Walker; costume designer Jacqueline West; makeup hair and prosthetic designer, and makeup department head, Donald Mowat; and supervising sound editor Mark Mangini.

The invitation warned that “all guests must show proof of full COVID-19 vaccination to attend the event. All guests will be required to show a negative PCR COVID-19 test result within 72 hours or a negative COVID-19 rapid antigen test result within 24 hours of the event, in addition to proof of full vaccination. All guests will be required to wear masks while inside except while eating or drinking.”

Just five days later, a second email arrived, noting that “out of an out of an abundance of caution, we have made the decision to cancel our Dune Home Entertainment Release Party. … While we will not be able to gather in person to celebrate the home entertainment release of Denis Villeneuve’s Dune, we invite you to watch the film at home either on digital, which is available now, or on 4K UHD, available on Jan. 11.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Dune became available for premium digital ownership ($29.99) and VOD ($24.99) on Dec. 3. The film, which has generated more than $350 million at the global box office, was directed by Villeneuve (Arrival, Blade Runner 2049) from a screenplay he co-wrote with Spaihts and Roth, based on the novel of the same name written by Frank Herbert.

The film’s cast includes Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, and Dave Bautista.

Dune tells the story of Paul Atreides (Chalamet), a brilliant and gifted young man born into a great destiny beyond his understanding, who must travel to the most dangerous planet in the universe to ensure the future of his family and his people. As malevolent forces explode into conflict over the planet’s exclusive supply of the most precious resource in existence — a commodity capable of unlocking humanity’s greatest potential — only those who can conquer their fear will survive.

The Blu-ray, DVD and 4K discs will include the featurette “The Royal Houses.”

Extras on the Blu-ray and 4K editions will also include:

  • Filmbooks: House Atreides
  • Filmbooks: House Harkonnen
  • Filmbooks: The Fremen
  • Filmbooks: The Spice Melange
  • Inside Dune: The Training Room
  • Inside Dune: The Spice Harvester
  • Inside Dune: The Sardaukar Battle
  • Building the Ancient Future
  • My Desert, My Dune
  • Constructing the Ornithopters
  • Designing the Sandworm
  • Beware the Baron
  • Wardrobe from Another World
  • A New Soundscape