Movie theater trade group doesn't expect studios to launch blockbusters on streaming platforms while cinemas are shut down

Key Points
  • The president of the National Association of Theater Owners told CNBC he doesn't expect studios to release theatrical features on home video while theaters are closed due to the coronavirus.
  • Movies that were in theaters when COVID-19 forced cinemas to shutter went to home video.
  • Major blockbusters that had not been released have been pushed to new release dates.
Not asking for a bail out, we're asking for liquidity: National Association of Theatre Owners CEO
Not asking for a bail out, we're asking for liquidity: National Association of Theatre Owners CEO

The decision to have "Trolls World Tour" skip theaters and go straight to home viewing is an outlier, not the norm, the president of the National Association of Theater Owners said Monday.

Movie theaters in a number of countries have been shuttered in an attempt to stem the rate of infection from the coronavirus. The pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on the entertainment industry, with studios being forced to make tough decisions about which movies will be delayed and which will be sent to streaming and on-demand platforms.

However, John Fithian, the group's president, joined CNBC's "Squawk Alley" on Monday to say that these closures are only temporary and there will be no major changes to how cinemas operate going forward.

Disney's "Onward," Universal's "The Hunt," "Emma" and "The Invisible Man," Warner Bros.'s "The Way Back," Lionsgate's "I Still Believe" and Sony's "Bloodshot" have all opted to go to home video earlier than expected in the wake of theater closures.

The only theatrical movie that is set to be released online instead of in theaters is Universal's "Trolls World Tour." The film was originally going to be simultaneously released in theaters and at home before all theaters were shuttered.

"We don't see any other studio doing that with their major titles," Fithian said. "Literally, it's only one movie from one studio where the signal has been a change in the business model. All the rest of the movies will come back up this fall and into next year with the same kind of business model we had before the crisis."

Last week, the theater owners group asked Congress to provide relief measures for its 150,000 employees. The trade group represents more than 33,000 screens in 50 states and has asked the federal government for loan guarantees to help the industry through a time when moviegoers are not able to travel to theaters. The association has also asked for tax benefits to assist theater owners who are still paying their employees and to make up for their losses.

Last year, the movie theater industry took in $15 billion in revenue, he said, a combination of around $11 million in ticket sales and $4 billion in concessions. 

"The movie cinema business in this country and around the world is very, very strong despite what some pundits might try to say," Fithian said. "We went from $15 billion a year to zero last week. This past weekend was the first weekend in the hundred-year history of the cinema business when we collected zero dollars from ticket sales."

He expects that when the outbreak has ebbed consumers will flock back to theaters after being cooped up in their homes for months. 

In the last month, shares of AMC have slumped 53%, Marcus Theaters is down nearly 70%, Cinemark is down 58% and Cineworld has fallen 76%.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal is the parent company of Universal Studios and CNBC.