In what proved to be the most difficult year ever for the business of movie theaters, online streaming has become the most dominant form of content distribution the world over. The final nail in the coffin for cinema halls seemed to be delivered by WarnerMedia, which announced recently that all their upcoming movies will be available on their new streaming service HBO Max at the same time as their theatrical releases. While some wondered if this was going to be a temporary strategy, John Stankey, CEO of AT&T, the company that owns Warner, confirmed to The Washington Post that this is now the new normal.

"In March, we unleashed a new normal in society. That horse left the barn. I don't think any of us are going to change that dynamic."
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It seems Stankey has seen the events of 2020 unfolding with respect to the entertainment industry as writing on the wall, which signals how things are going to be from now on. And it is hard to argue with his point of view. The theatrical experience, once considered so essential, has receded into the background as audiences discover the convenience of watching new content in the comfort of their homes. For Stankey, the studies done on the existing data regarding the matter are quite conclusive.

"Our data would suggest that large numbers of customers are not going to feel comfortable, even if they're movie lovers, doing that at any time in the middle part of [2021]. We're going to be well into the late part of next year before we see infection rates and the population as a whole gaining the confidence to be out more dynamically in society and return to doing things like going to a theater to sit down for a two-hour movie. So we just think this is appropriate for this moment in time and this circumstance and we're lucky as a business to have invested in a streaming platform where we can have the option of doing both and letting consumers choose."

So does this mean that theaters are indeed on their way out? Consigned to the pages of history in the manner of the radio and the transistor? Not quite, as Stankey believes they will continue to have a place in modern society, even though cinema halls will no longer hold the same sort of sway over the audience as they once did.

"I think movie theaters continue to have a role moving forward in society. They're an experience for the right kind of content that people are going to want to continue to have. But look, storytelling on scripted content is getting better and better and better. The experience of watching that content at home in comfortable surroundings, with large screens, and having the convenience of watching it when you want to watch it is getting better and better. So, there's no question that we're going to see consumer behavior shifts and those are going to sustain themselves."

This news originated at Deadline.