For years movie theater chains and film studios have been battling about how long movies need to be shown only in theaters before becoming available elsewhere. I predict 2020 will be the year that a major studio, most likely Disney or AT&T’s WarnerMedia, breaks the mold and debuts some movies on its streaming service before they show up in theaters.
This would be a Hollywood-shaking move, an admission that the movie theater is no longer the main way people watch movies and, just as important, no longer the engine that drives how much money a movie makes. It could hurry the decline of the theater industry. And it has implications for how directors, producers, and actors get paid—much of their compensation is currently based on percentages of gross revenues, which are harder to calculate when a movie doesn’t generate revenue on its own but is simply one program on a streaming service.