Warner Bros. , one of Hollywood’s largest studios, plans to release its top movies next year in theaters and on HBO Max at the same time , a drastic shift that shows how much the industry has been disrupted by COVID-19 and streaming. .
The 17 films affected by the change include the new installment in the Matrix franchise ; Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical In the Heights; and the DC Comics superhero movie The Suicide Squad . Each film will air on the HBO Max streaming platform for one month at no additional charge , an approach that the AT&T division was already planning for the Wonder Woman 1984 debut on Christmas Day.
Such a move would have been considered unthinkable a year ago, but the pandemic has erased the industry norms. Theaters have traditionally held exclusive rights to movies for up to three months, a deal they have vociferously defended.
Now, with COVID-19 in the United States and much of the world, and theaters closed or with little attendance, studios are taking increasingly severe measures to protect their investments in potential blockbusters.
The announcement hit the stocks of movie theaters, including industry leader AMC Entertainment. Its shares fell 16 percent to $ 3.62 in their worst intraday decline since Oct. 14. Cinemark slumped as much as 16 percent.
“We know that new content is the lifeblood of theatrical show,” said Ann Sarnoff, CEO of WarnerMedia Studios. “But we have to balance this with the reality that the majority of theaters in the United States will likely be operating at reduced capacity during 2021.”
The new model could rapidly increase subscriptions to HBO Max , a cornerstone of AT & T’s WarnerMedia’s long-term strategy. The platform launched this year, entering a crowded field that includes Netflix and Walt Disney’s Disney +. While pandemic locks have helped fuel the growth of online services across the industry, AT&T is under pressure to show that it can transition into the streaming age.
Warner was expected to compensate some of the major theater chains for its decision to put the new Wonder Woman movie on HBO Max on the same day as its theatrical release. It’s not yet clear what deal they could strike for the 2021 movies, but any deal will be important to their survival.
The ticket sales so far this year are down 78 percent to 2 billion 200 million dollars , according to Comscore research firm, leaving many cinemas to the brink of bankruptcy. That compares to over $ 10 billion right now a year ago.