WarnerMedia despatched shockwaves by way of the movie world yesterday when it introduced all of its 2021 movies will probably be concurrently launched in theaters and on HBO Max. Meaning subscribers to the streaming service will have the ability to watch potential blockbusters like Godzilla vs. Kong, Matrix 4, and Dune from the consolation and comfort of their couches on the identical day these movies debut in theaters.
In an announcement, WarnerMedia executives claimed the transfer will probably be a one-off choice for 2021, because it’s nonetheless unclear if or when theaters will have the ability to return to one thing resembling regular operation subsequent 12 months. However it unsurprisingly has customers and observers speculating this portends the way forward for motion pictures even after the pandemic—that the theatrical expertise is on its final legs and the opposite main Hollywood studios will quickly observe go well with with streaming-first distribution methods.
That’s not essentially the case. WarnerMedia’s choice is particularly designed to supply a lift to HBO Max after the service’s lackluster US launch in Might. HBO Max has not solely struggled to penetrate the cultural dialog (although some current sequence have proven promise), but it surely has additionally even been gradual to transition current HBO TV prospects—who can get HBO Max without spending a dime—to the brand new platform. Free and simple house entry to movies that had been initially going to move solely to theaters, like Within the Heights and the long-awaited House Jam sequel, will most likely change that.
WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar advised Recode the transfer was largely pushed by the continuing pandemic, however he additionally stated HBO Max “will benefit materially from this decision.” The corporate has plenty of constituencies to please—customers, theater chains, traders—and in addition has a enterprise to run. It’s making a wager that, for 2021, it’s extra vital to throw the typical client a bone (and elevate HBO Max within the course of) than it’s to put money into its relationship with the theaters. Different studios received’t make the identical calculation.
Disney, as an illustration, could not want that very same stimulus to its streaming service, Disney+, which is already wildly profitable within the US and past. So not solely does Disney have much less motivation to bolster its service—however it might additionally stand to lose much more worldwide field workplace income than WarnerMedia will, as a result of Disney+ is on the market on a number of continents. WarnerMedia continues to be solely accessible within the US. Everybody exterior the US will nonetheless have to look at the studio’s motion pictures in theaters subsequent 12 months. In a traditional 12 months, about two thirds of the entire world field workplace income comes from exterior the US.
And Common, which simply signed offers with two of the world’s greatest theater chains to shorten the period of time motion pictures play in theaters earlier than they are often rented at house, possible received’t wish to all of the sudden renege on these historic negotiations. Common was the studio most prescient in suspending just about all of its 2020 movies into subsequent 12 months, so it clearly values the theatrical mannequin. Whereas it does have its personal new streaming service in NBCUniversal’s Peacock, which launched within the US in July to reasonable success, it doesn’t seem to agree with WarnerMedia that boosting its streaming ambitions is value all of the misplaced potential field workplace income.
Subsequent 12 months, different studios definitely will launch a few of their motion pictures on-line or on video rental companies, as an alternative of or along with in theaters. Whereas there’s optimism a vaccine will enable moviegoers to return to theaters within the second half of the 12 months, studios want to produce other choices prepared. However WarnerMedia’s wider strategic shift for 2021 just isn’t one that may possible be replicated by the entire of Hollywood.