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HBO Max / Warner Bros. news Cast a Shadow over the Future of Live Cinema

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A more permanent “new normal” appears to be emerging in effort to adapt to a post-pandemic future

The debut for WB’s slate of movies to hit streaming services concurrently with theater releases, will undoubtedly have drastic consequences for the the already hard-pressed and struggling theaters.

Warner Bros. made mention that the hybrid release is strictly due to the pandemic, yet it’s unclear how the studio will navigate with movie releases for 2022 and beyond given the new model they are setting into motion.

Movie theater stock prices fell on the news. AMC shares dropped more than 15 percent, while Cinemark was down 14.5 percent.

Following the announcement, theater chain AMC’s CEO and president, Adam Aron made note they have “already commenced an immediate and urgent dialogue with the leadership of Warner on this subject.” He continued by saying “As for AMC, we will do all in our power to ensure that Warner does not do so at our expense. We will aggressively pursue economic terms that preserve our business.”

Read More: In a blow to the future of live cinema – Regal shutting down all U.S. 536 theaters

Theaters like AMC were agreeable to the one time exception of the Wonder Woman:1984 release to both theaters and streaming, however it appears they appear less thrilled to be on-board with the decision to upload the entirety of 2021’s schedule of films with that same release model.

Another large theater chain, Cinemark, wasn’t able to comment on how the hybrid model would impact its theaters in the long-term,  “In light of the current operating environment, we are making near-term booking decisions on a film-by-film basis,”  said a spokesperson. 

Read More: New Streaming Ideas for Holiday Season Entertainment

It’s hard to not to have seen something like this coming.  Streaming videos are been on the rise. Earlier this year Disney+  released  “Mulan” and Universal released “King of Staten Island” and “Trolls: World Tour” straight to on-demand platforms.  

Future evolution of entertainment distribution is a big unknown, like nearly everything else

Warner Bros and HBO are doing it a little differently.  What has been typical during the pandemic, is the increased number of options for premium video-on-demand (PVOD) where viewers are given access to blockbusters on the same day as theater release but are required to pay a premium price, in some cases upwards of $30. 

Yet in the case of WB’s 2021 movies, provided you are already a HBO Max subscriber, you will be able to watch these movies at no additional charge, other than your monthly fee. Compared to a PVOD price of $30 for one movie, $14.99 a month for the 17 movies for 2021 seems like a no-brainer. 

There is a 30-day availability limitation currently set on these special same-day release titles, but that would likely only be an issue if you wanted to sign up for a single month to game the system, so to speak.

It does appear to be the case that this announcement and others that may be soon to come, still represent a  form of experimentation by WB / HBO max to see what works during a pandemic. At the same time, there are some major signs that this is the beginning of the end for movie theaters, at least as the primary vehicle for the initial release phase of major feature films. 

It’s unclear whether the dual release model will set a permanent new precedent for how Warner Brothers conducts its business, as currently only 2021 films are on the table. Come 2022 it is also possible that the entire entertainment landscape will be unrecognizable, since, for example, theater chains, such as Regal Cinema, are already at the brink of bankruptcy.


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