(CBS Local)-- COVID-19 has dramatically altered many different industries and the movie theater business is still feeling the effects of the global pandemic in the United States.
As movie theaters attempt to re-open this summer, the cinema experience will look and feel a lot different with masks, deep cleanings and social distancing. While moviegoers have been watching films from home, executives are starting to prepare for the future of movie watching. In late July, AMC Theaters and Universal announced a deal to make the studio's movies available to stream after just 17 days in theaters.
While the groundbreaking deal doesn't apply to all movies, CNET senior Joan E. Solsman believes this is the first step in shifting the future of the movie theater business.
"The coronavirus pandemic has really started to erode some of these tightly-held and long-held standards around when a new movie comes out, where does it go first and how long before people can starting watching it in their homes," said Solsman in an interview with CBS Local's DJ Sixsmith. "There used to be this very sacredly held 75-90 day window that cinemas got to have a movie all to themselves. But now because there is no way to put out a movie in a theater, that's forced studios to start to reckon with the idea that these windows and structures are not what consumers want at any point."
Studios have already experimented with the idea of sending a big movie straight to streaming. Solsman says the release of "Trolls World Tour" was the catalyst that started the conversation of sending Universal movies to streaming after 17 days.
"It's not a gigantic budget movie, but it's pretty big. They couldn't release it in theaters when they wanted to, so they had a premium video on demand release. Trolls World Tour came out as a high-priced rental online and it was incredibly popular. It's catering to kids and families and that is an audience that is desperate for entertainment. The complication is that none of the other cinemas are agreeing to this yet, so we still don't know what the future of movies is going to be like once theaters finally do re-open. Hopefully there can be theatrical releases and people can choose when they get to watch their movies and when they want to."
This development and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic makes people question if they'll ever return to watch a movie in theaters. While some may not be going back, Solsman still believes there is an audience that will return to the theater.
"Cinemas are terrified because they haven't figured out how to adapt their own model for streaming," said Solsman. "They are a brick and mortar institution, there's not a Netflix for AMC. They haven't figured out how to be participant in those later windows yet. Not only directors, filmmakers and studios enjoy the cinematic experience. There are consumers that love it too and you can't reproduce that at home. I think what consumers want is more choice and right now because of the pandemic, they don't have as much choice. Steven Spielberg before the coronavirus once made the analogy that the cinema experience might become more like going to a Broadway show. Where it's something that has the option to be an even higher price point than what people pay now and you get all these bells and whistles. We were starting to see that in cinemas already with the investment in really lux seats that could recline and having beer and wine and food served to you. These higher end experiences that made it worth getting out of your house and paying more. You get something extra that you just can't get at home."
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