If you were anywhere close to screen yesterday you probably saw what is the biggest movie news of the year and potentially of the next few years to come. Warner Bros. announced that they will be releasing their entire slate of 2021 movies on their streaming partner HBO Max the same day as they hit theaters. Yep, that means “Dune”, “The Matrix 4”, Denzel Washington’s “The Little Things”, “Godzilla vs. Kong”, “The Suicide Squad” and many other big WB titles will be available to stream at home on their theater release date. 17 movies in total. And just like that HBO Max is a major player in the streaming game.
Now maybe this won’t have a big effect. Maybe this is just Warner offering viewers choices. Maybe this will be a “unique one-year plan” as WarnerMedia CEO Ann Sarnoff stated. On the other hand this could be a tectonic shift in the moviewatching landcape. It could be the beginning of a major change in the way movie fans consume blockbuster content. ￼And it brings with it some obvious questions. If the decision proves profitable would WB really consider going back to the old model? Will other major studios follow? If they do can the already struggling multiplexes sustain another year? How many will be forced to close permanently? How many jobs will be impacted? As is often the case, there is a cost to convenience.
Many of us were posing similar questions earlier in the year when Universal Pictures began testing the waters at the start of the COVID-19 theater closings. Some theater chains were criticized for fighting the move by banning Universal’s films from their screens. In reality those chains understood the potential damage a streaming future would have on their industry and they took a desperate stand. It did them no good. Since then other major studios have tinkered in the streaming space. Disney put “Mulan” on their streaming platform for a “premium” price. Sony Pictures sold rights to “Greyhoud” to Apple. Netflix bought distribution rights of “Enola Holmes” from Warner Bros. Paramount sold the rights to “Coming 2 America” to Amazon. These are just some of the digital moves we have seen from studios since March.
But nothing has been quite as significant and potentially game-changing as the Warner Bros. announcement. Yes COVID-19 still lingers and too many theaters remain closed for exclusive big screen releases to be profitable. In that sense this seems like a smart and well-calculated business move. From a viewer’s standpoint the idea that people can look forward to a slate of big studio movies without the fear of delay is exciting and gives the still apprehensive moviegoers a way to watch where they feel safe.
But let’s not overlook the big unknown. How will this ultimately effect the big screen movie experience? Is it realistic to think that movie houses won’t be effected by this? Is it remotely plausible that Warner and any other studio that follows their lead will abandon this new model if it proves to be a moneymaking success? Many theaters have worked hard and gone to great lengths to show that movies can be watched safely on the big screen. But without public confidence or big movies to show, they now find themselves up a creek without a paddle. And its hard to believe that big blockbusters going to streaming is going to help their already precarious situation.
So what do you think of this huge news? Are you excited or concerned, fascinated or shocked? I’d love to hear your thoughts.