The movie business is about to change forever. Will that be for better or for worse? That could largely be up to the individual to decide, but those who cherish the theatrical experience need to brace themselves for sweeping changes. This may sound dramatic, but given what is going on in the entertainment industry right now, it's probably not an overstatement of matters. Brace yourselves, movie lovers.

COVID-19, better known as the coronavirus, has had a massive effect on the entire world. Given everything that is going on right now, it's easy to imagine that quite a few people haven't been paying close attention to all of the goings-on in the entertainment industry currently. Those of us who have, like people such as myself who make a living writing about it, can tell you that it is a frightful situation. And the way studios are being forced to react is poised to change the way we view movies in the future.

Universal Pictures recently revealed that it will be making several current theatrical releases, such as The Invisible Man and The Hunt, as well as the upcoming Trolls: World Tour, available to rent via on-demand platforms, from the comfort of one's home, starting this Friday. The rentals will go for $19.99 and will be available for 48 hours. That may sound like a steep price, but when one considers what it costs to go to the movies, especially for an entire family, that number doesn't seem so large. Especially for a brand new release.

This is something theater chains such as AMC, the largest exhibitor in the U.S., have pushed against for years. Several studios have been pushing for shorter theatrical windows so that they could charge people a premium to view big titles at home. Theater owners have argued this would hurt their business. Understandably so. Yet, with the coronavirus outbreak forcing theaters to close around the world, including in the U.S., Universal made the move to help bring in some much-needed revenue.

For some, this will represent a welcome distraction in a dire and stressful situation. The potential issue, for those who run movie theaters or for those who enjoy the theatrical experience, is that Pandora's Box cannot simply be closed once things return to normal, whenever that may be. Releasing new movies on demand could be the new normal once that time comes. It certainly doesn't help matters that AMC Theaters' stock has dropped roughly 60 percent, as of this writing, compared to the beginning of the year. Other popular chains such as Cinemark and Regal have been similarly impacted.

On top of the theater closures, many major releases, such as A Quiet Place: Part II, Mulan, Peter Rabbit 2, The New Mutants, F9 and No Time to Die, amongst others, have been delayed significantly, with others expected to follow suit. Whenever chains like Regal decide to open their doors again, they may still be in need of big movies to showcase, depending on how long each of these titles ends up getting delayed. F9, for example, was pushed back a full year to April 2021. From a strictly financial standpoint, things are looking grim.

The question is, can theater chains whether the storm? Beyond that, what will the moviegoing landscape be once the storm is over, and can their current business model survive in the marketplace after the dust settles? Netflix has already prompted a massive, industry-wide push toward streaming, with Disney+ and Apple TV+ launching last year, as well as HBO Max and NBC's Peacock on deck for this year. If other studios follow in Universal's footsteps, that will be a huge boost to the stay-at-home movie market. Disney already released Frozen 2 months early on Disney+ and surprise-released The Rise of Skywalker to purchase on digital retailers ahead of its planned March 17 date. The writing, in many ways, is on the wall. Where there is smoke, there is fire, and there is a lot of smoke right now.

There's also the studio side of things to consider. Production delays caused by the coronavirus are costing Disney and other studios millions. The longterm exposure for the entertainment industry is currently expected to be $20 billion, and with the situation rapidly evolving, that number could rise. Studios will, undoubtedly, have to make difficult decisions when it comes to future movie production as a result. That means riskier projects could easily get the ax, as these companies simply can't afford to take such risks after such a tumultuous financial period.

That means those who want to see more original content in the marketplace and fewer franchise entries or remakes, may be out of luck to some degree. Or, at the very least, risky projects could become safer bets for streaming, as they don't rely on box office. So those who like going to the movies, but enjoy seeing something other than superhero flicks or big blockbusters, may encounter a tougher time when it comes to having those needs met.

Think of it this way. The music business underwent a dramatic shift in the early 2000s with the rise of MP3 technology and file sharing. Napster kicked the door wide open. Once the iTunes store and the iPod came into play, it was game over for the ways of old. Yes, the music business still brings in billions of dollars, but the way in which people consume music has changed in a big way. Spotify and other streaming services are now the way people, by and large, get their music. Sure, a mom and pop record store could thrive, but record chains like Sam Goody and Tower Records went by the wayside. That would have, just several years before Apple made downloads widely available to the public, been unthinkable. Things can change in a hurry.

The movie business could easily be in for a similar, seismic shift with all of these pieces moving around the chessboard to an uncertain end. Movies have, historically speaking, been an escape for people in times of crisis. Movie theaters even survived, and in some cases thrived, during the Great Depression because people needed an outlet from the outside world. But with the advent of streaming, that escape has been made accessible from the comfort of our own homes.

The future is impossible to predict, especially in a situation like this. Rightfully so, many people are focused on getting by, one day at a time right now. As someone who has cherished the theatrical experience my whole life, it pains me to think of big theater chains being forced to shut their doors. Sure, movie theaters won't disappear completely. There will always be people like me to fill seats. But we could be part of a dying breed, as opposed to the industry norm, sooner than it may seem.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Movieweb.
Ryan Scott at Movieweb
Ryan Scott