Warner Bros. says its 2021 films will stream while being played in theaters

During the most seismic shift from a Hollywood studio to date during the pandemic, Warner Bros. announced. Pictures on Thursday that its entire film slate from 2021 – including a new “Matrix” movie, “Godzilla vs. Kong” and the Lin-Manuel Miranda adaptation “In the Heights” – will stream on HBO Max while the movies are played in theaters .

Among the countless changes released by the pandemic, no studio has embraced streaming as fully as a lifeline. But after disappointing domestic ticket sales for “Tenet” and with most US theaters currently closed, AT&T-owned Warner Bros. to turn to a hybrid distribution model next year. Movies will debut simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max in the US After a month, they will stop streaming and continue playing only in theaters.

The move follows Warner Bros. ‘the decision to air “Wonder Woman 1984” on HBO Max in December, along with a simultaneous theatrical run. If that pivot sent shockwaves through the industry, Thursday’s announcement shook Hollywood to its core.

“Given the unparalleled time we were in, we needed a creative solution to address our fans, our filmmakers and our exhibitors,” said Ann Sarnoff, CEO of WarnerMedia Studios, in an interview. “Big and bold is a necessity right now.”

Sarnoff called it a “temporary solution” and a “one-year plan.” The study said that other alternatives – releasing large budget films only in theaters with reduced capacity or delaying films for another year – were not appealing. Warner Bros. ‘moves amounts to a confirmation that a complete rebound for theaters is still a year or more away.

“We have to get people back into the theaters at full capacity sometime. If you read the medical experts who will take a while to work their way through the system, “says Sarnoff. If we saw an end to the pandemic, we may have a different strategy. But we do not see that right now. ”

HBO Max is only available in the US. Internationally, the studio’s 17 films scheduled to be released in 2021 will be exclusively in theaters.

Warner Bros. The decision argues in particular that the 117-year-old studio “The Wizard of Oz” and “Casablanca” have long been market leaders in Hollywood – and one known as a particular supporter of theaters. The studio has generally been ranked among the top two studios in market share over the past decade – most recently only dwarfed by Walt Disney. Warner’s films typically account for $ 1.5-2 billion in ticket sales in North America – a lot of money to compensate for in HBO Max subscribers. Warner Bros. confirmed that the films will be available to subscribers at no extra cost.

“I can not comment on the economy for how it will all work – I would need a crystal ball for that,” says Sarnoff. “But I am very optimistic that this is a win-win-win for our fans, our filmmakers and our exhibitors. We take out the movies. We let them be seen on the big screen, that’s what they’s made for, but provide an alternative. The hybrid strategy also enables us to market them in a more complete way than we would have had if we had only looked at less than full capacity in theater right now. ”

AMC completely agrees

Warner Bros. ‘2021 Slate’s contains many of this year’s expected top films, including “Dune”, “The Suicide Squad”, “Tom & Jerry”, “The Conjuring: The Devil Make Me Do It”, “King Richard” and “Judas and the Black Messiah. ”

Moved from Warner Bros. only makes the pain felt by exhibitors all the more acute. After being closed for much of the year, cinemas opened nationwide in late summer except in some major locations, including Los Angeles and New York. But with most major emissions being postponed and the virus rate having increased, about 60% of theaters have since closed again. Regal Cinemas, the country’s second largest chain, has closed all its doors. After Warner Bros. ‘announcement, shares in AMC Entertainment decreased by 16%; Cinemark decreased by 22%.

AMC strongly disagreed with Warner Bros. ‘ strategy. Adam Aron, CEO of the world’s largest chain, said the AMC had agreed to the “Wonder Woman 1984” plans because of the virus flow. But he said the AMC would oppose the same approach until 2021, when a vaccine could accelerate a recovery.

“It is clear that WarnerMedia intends to sacrifice a significant portion of its film studios and its production partners and filmmakers’ profitability to subsidize HBO Max,” Aron said in a statement. ensure that Warner does not do so at our expense. ”

Under CEO Jason Kilar, the former Hulu chief, WarnerMedia recently reorganized to further prioritize its streaming service. He has been aggressive in increasing HBO Max, even if it is at the expense of the theater market. After a rocky launch, HBO Max said in October that nearly 9 million people used HBO Max, but 29 million had access to the streaming service as part of their HBO subscriptions. By comparison, Disney + has about 74 million subscribers, even though they are available worldwide.

“Our content is extremely valuable, unless it is on a shelf that is not seen by anyone,” Kilar said in a statement. “We believe this approach serves our fans, supports exhibitors and filmmakers, enhances the HBO Max experience and creates value for all.”

It is the latest in a series of sea changes sweeping through an industry spasmed by the pandemic. The decline of the traditional 90-day theatrical window – something long sought after by some in Hollywood – has accelerated, and many feel it has gone well. Universal Pictures last month did business with both AMC Theaters and Cinemark to give them the opportunity to move films to home production after just 17 days in theaters. Disney has postponed most of its releases, but redirected “Hamilton”, “Mulan” and the upcoming Pixar release “Soul” to Disney +.