Did Warner Bros. Just Forever Change the Moviewatching Experience?

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.

20 thoughts on “Did Warner Bros. Just Forever Change the Moviewatching Experience?

  1. If it wasn’t for the pandemic, we probably wouldn’t have seen this happen for at least another 6 or 7 years, but the fact of the matter is, is that the movie-going experience has really been changing over the last few years. With the advent of streaming and digital media, I feel that something like this was inevitable. Sadly, I think that mainstream movie theaters are going to end up like drive-in theaters, and end up being more of a novelty than anything else. But then again, something like this could end up providing more options for theater-goers. We just don’t know. It’s a wait-and-see kind of thing, I guess.

    • Well said. I too think this was inevitable but the pandemic seems to have given the studios the extra push. And so much of entertainment media has already been moving digital. Music, video games, books, and of course movies.

  2. I have mixed feelings about it. I think with all the new streaming services available this was bound to happen at some point with or without a pandemic. Especially with the advances in technology with surround sound and televisions, where people can create their own theater experience without ever leaving their living room. However, I would hate to see the theater experience go away entirely. Some movies (like Wonder Woman!) you just have to see on the big screen! 🙂 And also when it’s a fan favorite, an excited, enthusiastic crowd really adds to the experience. Hopefully we can create a world with a little bit of both moving forward.

    • Ultimately, I think THAT’S what it’s going to come down to. The big-budget blockbusters from DC/Marvel and Star Wars are most likely going to still end up on the big screen, but the lower-budget and indie titles are more likely going to end up on a streaming service. That sucks, because there are some indie titles that deserve a big screen shot.

      • Absolutely. But will blockbusters be enough to keep theaters afloat? Especially if a chunk of that revenue goes to streaming services who are showing the movie at the same time? Such unknown territory.

    • I’ve always felt the ideal situation was that streaming and movie theaters can both coexist and prosper. But at the same time there is always that lingering question of how realistic that is. I honestly don’t know. As I have told someone else, it seems like this is where the industry has been heading but the pandemic gave the studios the push they were looking for. But as you said, there’s nothing like seeing a big blockbuster with an excited crowd. Or simply admiring an incredible visual artist’s work on a huge screen. I guess time will tell where this ends.

      • We’re in uncharted territory. There’s a lot of unknowns here. If somebody last year had told me that this was going to happen this quickly, I would’ve told them to lay down before they hurt themselves, but here we are.

  3. Honestly, I don’t think this is a good idea. I understand where Warner Brothers is coming from in the wake of this pandemic. Yet, I think it will take away something really special that is the movie-going experience. I miss going to the movie theaters as it’s not just to see a movie in the big screen but also to sit comfortably on a chair for 3 hours or more at the most. The smell of popcorn and the atmosphere and to escape from reality for a few hours.

    I can’t fathom seeing something like Dune on a big screen TV, tablet, or a laptop. It feels like a film that has to be seen on a large screen and man, I can’t get on board with this.

    • I know exactly where you’re coming from. It’s a realistic perspective of where things could end up. Barring a disaster I will go to the big screen to see many of these. But this could be a real game-changer, and a sad one for those of us who adore the movie theater experience.

  4. HBO max isn’t a big thing over here, I don’t know anyone with it, just Netflix or Prime and Sky, so with our cinemas also closed, there won’t be much revenue from us, but maybe that’s a drop in the ocean and doesn’t really matter. Ah well, all comes to bluray eventually. Even I’d see Wonder W 2 and Dune in the cinema!

  5. To have the best movie experience many will have to upgrade and update their viewing and listening technology. In some areas, Internet bandwidth will be a challenge too. This is a golden time for tech companies to provide the best hardware available.

  6. It’s an inevitable move, I suppose. While there’ll always be cinephiles who enjoy the cinema experience, many still prefer streaming, which is also a great option for large families and people with disabilities. I think this will change the industry in the same way that Blockbuster and Netflix did, so the hybrid model could be the norm in years to come. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to have choices!

    • Oh I agree. That’s why I’ve often said in the perfect world both would coexist and flourish. But it’s hard to believe an already struggling theater industry will be able to stay where they are now. I’ll definitely utilize streaming in some cases. But I feel for those impacted by closings (if it comes to that). It will be fascinating to watch.

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