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Lansing-area theaters struggle with early movie releases on streaming services

Posted at 4:42 PM, Feb 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-04 17:11:51-05

WILLIAMSTON, Mich. — One consequence of the pandemic is that more people are watching movies at home rather than watching them on the big screen with a tub of good popcorn.

Revenue for the movie theater industry is estimated to have declined around 60 percent in 2020 due to the pandemic. The Sun Theatre in Williamston re-opened its doors in October 2021.

“We waited so long, because we were afraid to go up against the streaming at the same time movies were in theaters,” said owner Lisa Robitaille.

Sun Theatre Williamston
Sun Theatre Williamston

During the pandemic, viewers shifted to streaming platforms.

“Of course, you know, we all had like Netflix and Amazon before the pandemic," said Detroit movie reviewer and celebrity interviewer Greg Russell. "But once the pandemic hit, everybody was staying at home, you know, watching all these streaming platforms, because you still wanted to be entertained."

The Sun Theatre seats about 300 people. Now, they have one show in the evening and are closed on Mondays.

“I would say that we are probably at around 50% what we would normally have this time of the year. A couple nights we've come close to filling it at 50 percent," said Robitaille. She says if people are still worried about coming out into the theaters there's still plenty of space to move around. “They are backing away from streaming at the same time as in theaters. But now Hollywood has also decided to release the movies sooner streaming than they used to, which is really going to hurt you know, theaters.”

Sun Theatre Williamston
Sun Theatre Williamston

Even though Russell says most people who make movies want it to be seen on a big screen in a movie theater, celebrities will earn their money either way.

“A lot of them now have these great contract deals with the streaming services where they'll open it up in the movie theater, then like a week later, they'll have it streaming," he added. "So, they will get their money at the theater, and also get it from the home release as well."

For a local movie theater like the Sun, this is not a great deal. For Robitaille, it is more of a hobby than a money maker.

Sun Theatre Williamston
Sun Theatre Williamston

“It was really important for us to you know, keep it going. So, we came up with some creative ideas. We did popcorn to go a couple nights a week, we have our new coffee mugs, and we have some new apparel T shirts and sweatshirts."

Robitaille says the Sun Theatre is keeping their prices low to ensure that families that cannot afford going to big theaters, still get to watch a movie on the big screen.

The Sun Theatre switches their movie every Friday. Today, they are releasing “American Underdog: The Kurt Warner Story.”

For the future, she is hoping that movies won’t hit steaming services quite too quickly.

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Mikayla Temple

Mikayla Temple

1:39 PM, Jan 05, 2021

Your Neighborhood Reporter

Mikayla Temple

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