In an industry-shaking move, HBO Max and movie theaters will simultaneously screen all Warner Bros 2021 movies. The longtime studio owned by AT&T announced it will release its entire 2021 lineup in both movie theaters and via its HBO Max streaming service. The move comes as the entertainment industry remains hamstrung by the coronavirus pandemic.
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US Coronavirus Cases
Health experts see movie theaters as potential flashpoints for infection due to the proximity of large numbers of viewers seated next to each other. This led to all major studios postponing the release of their major productions until the government gives an all-clear. Warner Bros is among the studios that nervously waits for the resumption of normalcy.
However, the United States remains in the midst of a devastating coronavirus outbreak. Wednesday’s death toll of 2,800 set a record as the country’s highest in a single day. At present, the country is dealing with 14 million cases, with the last million happening in under a week.
‘Content is the Lifeblood’
WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group CEO Ann Sarnoff said they want the return of movie theaters, but until then they must adapt. “No one wants films back on the big screen more than we do,” she said. “We know new content is the lifeblood of theatrical exhibition, but we have to balance this with the reality that most theaters in the U.S. will likely operate at reduced capacity throughout 2021.”
As such, the studio’s 17 new movies scheduled for a 2021 screening will see their premiere in both cinemas and living rooms. HBO Max will make Warner Bros 2021 movies available during the first month of their release. Afterward, the movies will undergo the usual distribution pattern.
Boldest Move Yet
This simultaneous showing represents the boldest move yet made by a major movie studio. There were smaller steps undertaken this year to test viewer acceptability. Rival studio Disney released a live-action version of Mulan on their streaming service Disney+. However, Disney+ required subscribers to pay an extra $30 for a one-time purchase to watch the movie. Also, Universal Studios released “Trolls World Tour” online and in theaters at the same time. Similarly, Universal also required a movie purchase outside of the subscription package.
Warner Bros gets an opportunity to test their plan later this month. The new Wonder Woman 1984 movie will premiere on HBO Max and movie theaters simultaneously this Christmas. HBO Max currently charges $14.99 a month for complete access to its movie library. Access to Wonder Woman 1984 will not require additional charges for existing subscribers. The same goes for the movies in the 2021 lineup.
Helping Out HBO Max
The decision helps anxious moviegoers watch new films in the safety of their own homes. But, it also serves as a vehicle for the mother company AT&T to help HBO Max, it’s streaming service provider. Adding new movies without raising the price can help HBO Max break out from its middling status.
Currently, HBO Max remains the most expensive among its peers. The current battleground includes Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, and AppleTV+. In terms of content and quality of shows, HBO Max resides in the middle of the pack. In a Business Insider ranking among streaming services last June, HBO Max averages 27 TV shows per dollar, while Prime Video provides 247. Meanwhile, Netflix is at 149, with Hulu close behind at 146. For movies, the gap becomes wider. Prime Video provides 1,427 movies per dollar, while Netflix offers 291 movies per dollar. HBO Max rounds up third at 116 movies.
Theaters Under Fire
Expectedly, theaters are lukewarm with the development. They acknowledge the necessity of Warner Bros’ move due to the pandemic. At the same time, they worry about the implications over the long term. The window period where new movies remain exclusive to theaters for a period of time before they move to home or digital versions will disappear. As it is, theaters are already suffering from closures. Those lucky enough to open can only do so at a reduced capacity.
In particular, smaller theaters are going to bear the brunt. Emagine Entertainment co-founder Paul Glantz said: “We’re told what the terms are and it’s taking it or leave it,” said “All the leverage we have is to decline to play the film.” Emagine Entertainment Inc owns more than 20 locations in the Midwest. Theater chain Cinemark said they will continue near-term booking on a per-film basis. According to a spokesperson, “At this time, Warner Brothers has not provided any details for the hybrid distribution model of their 2021 films.“ Cinemark, along with rival AMC entertainment, saw their stock prices drop upon Warner’s announcement. AMC lost 18.4% during Wednesday’s trading hours, while Cinemark dropped 19.5%.
Bottom line: Movies Are Back
Given Warner Bros’ move, will moviegoers troop back to cinemas once the pandemic is over? Or, will the convenience and relatively cheap rates of streaming make it the new normal? Either way, movies are back.
Watch the CNBC News report announcing that Warner Bros will release its 2021 movie lineup on HBO Max same time as the theatrical release:
Given Warner Bros’s new model, will you watch Warner Bros 2021 movies via streaming services or the theater? Let us know what you think by sharing your comments below.