Movie theater industry could see big changes in post-coronavirus pandemic world

Some experts wonder if the business of the silver screen could soon see a big change with theaters closed around the world and premium streaming showing promise.

This week it was announced that the Dreamworks movie Trolls: World Tour had grossed nearly $100 million since its release as a rental on streaming video platforms. The film was one of the first major releases to come out as a so-called "premium video on-demand," where it was offered up to viewers as a first-run $20 rental in their homes.

The early numbers were quickly being touted as promising and there was talk that Universal Pictures may release some future titles in the premium on-demand format alongside their theatrical release.

"It's an evolution of the industry,” said Shawn Robbins, Chief Analyst for Box Office Pro.

Robbins, like many industry experts, is watching the current state of the movie business closely as streaming takes center stage with movie-goers everywhere social distancing at home.

Robbins said it’s tough to tell yet just how big an impact premium on-demand offerings could have on the industry as a whole.

"This is unprecedented,” said Robbins, “I think we've all said that word more times than we can count in the last few months, but comparing a movie's revenue at home when there's no theatrical competition is in a vacuum, and we don't really know what that translates to."

The industry analyst said he could see the service being a draw going forward – especially in the case of movies aimed at kids and families; like Trolls.

However, he doesn’t think the system will be any sort of replacement for theaters anytime soon. He said not only do blockbusters and many other genres seem unlikely to skip the theatrical step, but he said theatrical releases are too important financially for both those producing the movies and the theaters exhibiting them.

Many in the industry seem confident that theaters still have a future after COVID-19. 

Janie Pope, Public Relations Director for the arthouse Enzian Theater in Maitland said Friday that she didn’t see theaters going anywhere. She said many, especially guests at their theater, still treat a night at the big screen as an experience that goes beyond the film on the screen.

"Do you remember the first movie you ever went to see in theaters? Probably. Do you remember the first movie you ever streamed on TV? No,” said Pope.

The Enzian, too, is offering several independent titles as streaming features through their website right now while their theater remains closed due to the illness. Pope said they look forward to reopening as soon as it’s safe though, and they expect a lot of movie-goers will be eager for the night out.