This is just one more digital genie that, once out of the bottle, is not going to go back in. HBO Max today. Tomorrow… For production studios that have their own streaming services – not least Disney – there can be no turning back.
The Matrix 4, Dune, The Suicide Squad, Godzilla vs. Kong and Space Jam: A New Legacy are among the top films from Warner Bros. (17 in total) scheduled for 2021 release that will be available on the HBO Max streaming service the same day they hit US theatres.
The move comes as Wonder Woman 1984 is already set to go to HBO Max on Christmas Day, along with a cinema release for such theatres as may be open.
The Hollywood Reporter sums up the bigger picture emerging:
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 a something is broken, can you really put it back together again? This also raises serious concerns about the landscape of movie-going in 2021.
Ann Sarnoff, chair and CEO, WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group, said:
We’re living in unprecedented times which call for creative solutions, including this new initiative for the Warner Bros. Pictures Group. No one wants films back on the big screen more than we do. 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.
This one-year emergency-measures plan is likely to be less-needed by the end of 2021, given the supposed progress being made with the Covid-19 vaccine, but as The Hollywood Reporter’s Aaron Couch and Pamela McClintock note,
Once something is broken, can you really put it back together again?
This of course is not the end of the Box Office. First off, this is a US-only development – it will be theatre release as usual for the rest of the world. Second, streaming at home is a very different cultural and social experience from going to the cinema. And third, only HBO Max subscribers will be able to see the films at home.
But this is just one more digital genie that, once out of the bottle, is not going to go back in.
For production studios that have their own streaming services – not least Disney – there can be no turning back. HBO Max today. Tomorrow…
The foreseeable future is a hybrid model where theatre and streaming releases run simultaneously, and from there on it’s a slippery slope, not to oblivion, but theatre as a smaller-audience premium experience.
Many book publishers and certainly most bookstore owners will be looking on in horror, but as the film studios emerge stronger and more creative for the experience, so will publishers be taking a second look at countries like Sweden where digital books have already exceeded print sales thanks to subscription.
And when they look closely they’ll see mostly healthy publishers and, contrary to the unfounded assertions of some otherwise erudite commentators who are asserting that,
the streaming model—should it take hold—will ensure there are no bookshops anywhere,
Sweden still has a vibrant, if smaller, print book scene.
At some stage publishers need to consider the long-term bottom line. Publishers need to move with the times and keep up with consumer trends. That includes accepting unlimited subscription as a fact of life, and adapting its relationship with booksellers accordingly.
It needn’t be carnage, and it certainly won’t be the bookseller’s dystopia Mr. Philip Jones conjures up. But it will happen.