It’s probably time to sell any shares you may have in cinemas. Today Warner Bros announced that its entire 2021 movie slate will now debut on HBO Max.
As with its release of Wonder Woman 1984, it will be a mixed release with movies going to cinemas, but also to the WarnerMedia streaming service HBO Max for a limited 31 day window.
In territories where HBO Max isn’t available, movies will be released to cinemas as per usual. That will include Australia, the UK, Japan, China, and, well, most of the world.
That’s 17 huge release films in total going straight to HBO Max:
- Wonder Woman 1984
- The Matrix 4
- In the Heights
- The Suicide Squad
- The Many Saints of Newark (a feature film Sopranos prequel)
- Godzilla vs Kong
- Mortal Kombat
- Tom and Jerry
- The Little Things
- Judas and the Black Messiah
- Those Who Wish Me Dead
- King Richard
- The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It
- Space Jam: A New Legacy
Why are they taking this bold step? There’s two key reasons:
- 60% of cinemas in the US are closed, with attendance limited in those that remain. The opportunity to sell tickets is dramatically reduced. And while there is news of a vaccine, it’s going to take the good part of 2021 for that vaccine to be deployed and for immunity levels to reach the stage where it is again safe to re-open.
- Yes, Warner Bros could have held back these releases. But after a while movies start to feel pretty stale. Plus WarnerMedia’s future lies with HBO Max - why not use this opportunity to supercharge the service with huge new movies released every month for the next year?
Warner Bros are calling this a one-year plan. Here’s studio head Ann Sarnoff:
“We’re living in unprecedented times which call for creative solutions, including this new initiative for the Warner Bros. Pictures Group,” Sarnoff said in a statement. “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,” she continued. “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.”
I would suggest that it is very safe to say that the priority for WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar is HBO Max. And that’s clearly where his head is at with this statement:
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. “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.”
Here’s the thing: WarnerMedia execs can say in public all that they want about this being a one-year deal. But what happens to HBO Max at the end of the year? Does it go from the home of blockbuster movie Dune to the next month rolling out the release of season 3 of Love/Life and Euphoria?
HBO will need to ensure that it has a pipeline of buzzy series ready to keep subscribers after such a huge year of releases. It has the Game of Thrones prequel and there’s a TV tie-in series connected to The Suicide Squad. But it’s really going to need to keep pace with 2021 in order to retain and grow the subscriber count.
Also: How did cinema chain Cinemark respond to the news? By issuing a statement that says nothing: “In light of the current operating environment, we are making near-term booking decisions on a film-by-film basis. At this time, Warner Bros. has not provided any details for the hybrid distribution model of their 2021 films.” Read: Deadline
Related: HBO Max is ending its free-trial period offer ahead of the launch of Wonder Woman 1984. Currently new users get 7-days to trial the service. Read: Variety
Market responds to Discovery+ with a shrug
Yesterday’s announcement that Discovery would launch a streaming service pooling together all of its reality/documentary content from existing linear channels while adding original series was met with indifference by Wall Street.
Following the announcement the share price remained flat before raising all of 2.5% during a late session rally.
Analysts did generally acknowledge that the streaming service will bring significant heft when it launches on January 4. With about 55,000 hours of programming and 50 original series, it will have pretty clear appeal to “super-fans” of the company’s unscripted offerings. But the financial community remains unpersuaded that a $5-a-month streaming service can be “a big enough lifeboat” for Discovery as it looks to “survive and thrive in the rough waters of a declining linear TV universe,” as MoffettNathanson’s Michael Nathanson put it.
- Marvel’s Hawkeye series has commenced filming. Read: Uproxx
- Disney are cancelling Duck Tales with its third season. The reboot of the 80s animated classic has reached the 65 episode run that most animated series aim for. Read: Deadline
Maybe this is nothing - it just caught my attention. Actor Dichen Lachman (Dollhouse, Marvel’s Agent’s of SHIELD, and the upcoming Jurassic World movie) is reportedly joining the new Ben Stiller TV series thriller Severance. The Deadline article reporting her casting references Lachman as “Nepal-born actress…” which is a change from the stories I remember about her when she first started getting roles in Hollywood as the Australian actress making it big.
This isn’t a dig at her. And maybe it’s just how Deadline framed the article. But I can’t think of any other Nepal-born actors and in an industry where it is difficult to stand out, this is a savvy angle.
Japanese Film Festival
The JFF Plus Online film festival is a free celebration of Japanese cinema. It is an online component to the Japanese Film Festival which travels the globe every year. COVID obviously has restricted the real-world festival this year.
Starting Dec 4, viewers in Australia, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, New Zealand, South Korea, and United States can watch select films for free each day with a 24-hour expiry window. There’s a good mix of features, short films, and animation in the online festival.
And did I mention it is free?
Check it out: JFF
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina - Part 4 debuts on Netflix Dec 31.
The Dig debuts on Netflix Jan 29.
Firefly Lane is coming soon to Netflix.