Like so many industries, the movie theater industry has taken a massive hit in 2020. Many theaters closed to encourage community safety, and some remain closed still. Even in those theaters which have re-opened, limited capacity and a nervous community have combined to make this year’s profits dismally low. Some production companies have opted to continue their traditional agreements with theaters. Others are looking for new ways to meet the needs of their customers. Warner Bros is one of the latter, as a new report suggests that they will be bringing 17 major movies straight to home streaming on PVOD (Premium Video on Demand) services at the same time they launch in theaters.
Warner Bros Taking the Initiative
It was clear a new era was dawning when Warner Bros announced that expected mega-hit Wonder Woman 1984 would go straight to VOD the same day it launches in theaters on December 25th, 2020. Now it looks as though Warner Bros is taking the initiative to extend that system through 2021.
Per The Hollywood Reporter, “The studio announced Thursday day-and-date releases for its 17-film slate, which will hit HBO Max for a one-month window that starts the same day they will be available in U.S. theaters.
The studio’s 2021 slate includes projects such as The Suicide Squad, The Matrix 4, Dune, Godzilla vs. Kong and Space Jam: A New Legacy. Other films include Little Things, Judas and the Black Messiah, Tom & Jerry, Mortal Kombat, Those Who Wish Me Dead, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, In The Heights, Reminiscence, Malignant, The Many Saints of Newark, King Richard and Cry Macho.
The unprecedented move is likely to catch theater owners off guard and upsets a model that has been in place for decades. Warner Bros. stresses that these are pandemic-only rules, but once something is broken, can you really put it back together again? This also raises serious concerns about the landscape of movie-going in 2021.”
Vaccines and Other Considerations
With Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson all promising effective vaccines in the near future, is it really necessary to launch the new movies on VOD in 2021? Warner Bros believes so. By making the decision now, instead of waiting to see and possibly getting caught stuck with a movie in theaters no one can attend due to new lockdowns, they’ve opted to change the landscape entirely for 2021 – although they promise it’s temporary.
But what about the theaters? With as hard as 2020 has hit theaters, is it ethical to partially bypass the industry? A Warner Bros Pictures group chairman, Toby Emmerich, has argued that the plan is good for both their customers and their partner theaters. Per THR, “It allows us to do a global release and a national release in what we think is going to be a checkerboarded theatrical market place for the bulk of 2021,’ Emmerich told THR. ‘We think where theaters are open, and consumers can go, that a lot of people will choose to go to the theater, especially for big movies.’
In a statement announcing the news, Ann Sarnoff, CEO, WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group, cited ‘unprecedented times’ that ‘call for creative solutions.’
‘No one wants films back on the big screen more than we do,’ said Sarnoff. ‘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. With this unique one-year plan, we can support our partners in exhibition with a steady pipeline of world-class films, while also giving moviegoers who may not have access to theaters or aren’t quite ready to go back to the movies the chance to see our amazing 2021 films. We see it as a win-win for film lovers and exhibitors, and we’re extremely grateful to our filmmaking partners for working with us on this innovative response to these circumstances.’
‘After considering all available options and the projected state of moviegoing throughout 2021, we came to the conclusion that this was the best way for WarnerMedia’s motion picture business to navigate the next 12 months,’ said WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar in a statement. ‘More importantly, we are planning to bring consumers 17 remarkable movies throughout the year, giving them the choice and the power to decide how they want to enjoy these films. Our content is extremely valuable, unless it’s sitting on a shelf not being seen by anyone. We believe this approach serves our fans, supports exhibitors and filmmakers, and enhances the HBO Max experience, creating value for all.’”
What’s the Future of Movie Theaters?
According to Warner Bros, more of the same. They reassure their partners and customers that this is just a temporary adjustment. With BioNTech’s CEO promising a return to normal life by mid-2021 if the vaccines are distributed on schedule, the first half of 2021 is likely to be seriously impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
If, however, the vaccines are proven effective and distributed adequately, the second half of 2021 may see a return to normalcy in theaters; except, of course, for Warner Bros movies.
Those looking to watch the big hits from home on PVOD will need to subscribe to HBO Max, which is only available in the US.