The ongoing coronavirus crisis has thrown the release schedule of cultural products into chaos, as now is an exceptionally bad time to drop anything that isn’t a government check for lost wages. Our cultural producers — movie studios, publishing houses, television networks, and so forth — must decide whether to go ahead with previously made plans, or wait until all of this is over. The new Fast and Furious movie, for example, has been pushed back from its May 2020 release date to April 2021, in hopes that mass gatherings will be back on the table by then (maybe!) and we’ll all be in a better mood to watch some big cars go boom.
But as more people are driven inside for the time being, it’s also true that everyone is looking for something to do at home. As a result, unconventional solutions have emerged: This week, Universal Pictures announced it’ll make several of its current film releases available to stream on-demand at home, as movie theaters around the world are being closed. Beginning Friday, movies like The Invisible Man, Emma, and The Hunt will be rentable for $19.99 apiece, with Trolls: World Tour set for a similar release.
Emma and The Invisible Man were finished products already in theaters, so Universal just had to skip the typical waiting period between when a movie is released, and when it’s available for purchase. But there are so many more finished products waiting to be released in the coming weeks, which publishers may now consider delaying until a time when everyone can go back outside. While they may be reticent to promote anything in the current climate, I would submit an opposite suggestion: Release that shit. While everyone is sitting at home stewing in anxiety, people have never been more desperate for distraction. We have all become a captive audience with the free time to give that show or game a try.
For example, ESPN was going to begin airing The Last Dance, a 10-part documentary series about the final championship run of the Michael Jordan-era Chicago Bulls, right after the NBA Finals concluded in June. But with the NBA season postponed indefinitely, if not canceled outright, pegging the release of The Last Dance to anticipated current events is no longer as necessary. The whole series isn’t yet finished, but if it can be completed remotely, there’s no reason to wait until June. Release it! Put it on TV as soon as possible, instead of airing debate shows about sports that are no longer happening! I will watch all 10 episodes in a row; so will millions of other basketball fans desperate for new content.
There’s only so many Medium posts you can read about how we’re all going to die, you know?
For another example, the video game publisher Square Enix is set to release the remake of Final Fantasy VII on April 10. The game has been delayed a lot due to the production process, but the demo is available for download, and with three weeks before release it would be shocking if the game wasn’t actually finished yet. If it is… release it! Maybe not the physical copy, because stores are closed and more vital things need to be shipped, but make it downloadable! We’re all at home! We need something to play, please!
The usual caveats apply that staying at home is a privilege right now, as millions of people are still being sent to work with the future of their paycheck still at stake. Donating money to any of the GoFundMes that have sprung up in support of food service workers, booksellers, and so forth is easily more worthwhile than dropping $300 in the PlayStation Store. (I have done the former, and not the latter.) But as conditions evolve, more and more people will be forced indoors, and entertainment will remain paramount to avoid going stir crazy in isolation. There’s only so many Medium posts you can read about how we’re all going to die, you know? I’ll probably even watch the new season of Westworld, despite knowing better.
When I was a young nerd, I paid a lot of attention to release dates, desperate for the moment some comic book or movie or video game or television show or book would become available for me, the fan, to devour. “I can’t believe I’ll be watching Star Wars: Episode III in one week,” I’m sure I must’ve said, hoping for a time machine to skip through the agony of waiting, and get right to the good shit.
But the more I paid attention to the release schedule, the more mutable it appeared. Sometimes a cultural product I was expecting would move abruptly to a few months in the future; other times it would disappear entirely. Once in high school I trudged to GameStop to ask for a game I’d been waiting for all year, only to be told it had actually been pushed back another year. From this I took a couple of things — namely, that I should call before making the walk — but chief among them was that stuff was going to come out when it came out, and that all the tension of anticipation was sort of useless.
As I got a little older I learned what goes into creating a release schedule: anticipating what other competing releases are happening at the same time (nobody wants to release a new movie the same weekend as Star Wars, unless you’re the makers of Cats); anticipating how much work a product needs before it’s done (typically what causes most video game or comic book delays); contemporary events (don’t release a movie about Halloween at Christmas). Most of it was beyond my control, so I stopped anticipating as much.
Well, now all of this is beyond our control, and though the companies are surely worried about their profits, they can earn infinite goodwill by recognizing the need for something else. To reiterate: Release that shit! More people will pay attention than you think; maybe even more, now that everyone is at home all of the time. But the price point for new movies should not be $19.99 — even boredom won’t get me to see Trolls: World Tour at that price.