Major US film studio Warner Bros have today, Thursday 3rd December 2020, announced that their entire slate of 2021 feature films will be available to stream on the same day as they are released in cinemas. The move has been described by Warner Media chair and chief executive Ann Sarnoff as “a win-win for film lovers and exhibitors”.
While little is known of the circumstances surrounding the possibility of such a decision effecting markets outside of the United States, people within the US will be able to stream any new Warner Bros release via the HBO Max app on the same day as the film is available to watch in multiplexes and independent movie theatres.
Currently, Warner Bros is scheduled to release a large number of highly anticipated films, including Denis Villeneuve’s Dune adaptation, the fourth Matrix movie, Godzilla vs Kong and James Gunn’s Suicide Squad.
HBO Max, named in conjunction with Warner Media’s premium television channel Home Box Office (HBO), is the streaming service owned by Warner Bros’ parent company AT&T, and is set to host Wonder Woman 1984 from 25th December 2020 (the same date as it is available in cinemas), as well as the Zack Snyder cut of Justice League in Spring 2021.
The current price of subscription to HBO Max is $14.99 per month, though most HBO pay-TV subscribers can access the app through their already existing subscription. Wonder Woman 1984 will be available on the platform in 4K resolution at no extra cost to the subscriber. This is in opposition to Disney’s decision to charge $29.99 (on top of their existing $6.99 Disney Plus subscription cost) to watch 2020 blockbuster Mulan – a decision that reportedly earned Disney $200-300million.
Fellow studio Universal were the first to announce a plan to stream new releases the same day as they were released in cinemas, but major cineplex group AMC (Odeon in the UK) forced the Comcast owned studio to back down by removing all Universal films from their hundreds of international cineplexes. Eventually, the two parties settled on an exclusivity period of 17 days in favour of the theatres.
With cinemas worldwide still closed due to governmental restrictions and the ongoing effects of the global pandemic, Sarnoff believes “moviegoers who may not have access to theatres, or aren’t quite ready to go back to the movies, [will have] the chance to see our amazing 2021 films”, adding that the move is “a unique one year plan”.
While the language of Sarnoff’s statement seems to indicate a sorrow at not committing to the theatrical experience, framing the move as a necessary one for the financial viability of individual projects and the studio as a whole, this decision is bound to be earth-shaking to an exhibition industry that already seemed to be on the verge of collapse following months of closures and every major studio choosing to postpone their 2020 releases until 2021.
While little is known about how Warner Bros’ 2021 releases will be laid out on HBO Max – whether it will adopt the same “no extra charge” strategy as Wonder Woman 1984 or adopt a Premium VoD model – remains to be seen, but the effects of this decision are likely to be felt for years to come.