WarnerMedia announced it’s putting its entire 2021 movie slate, all 17 films, on HBOMax on the same day the movies premiere in theaters. This shatters the traditional window between theatrical release and streaming that the industry had previously adhered to, which helped guarantee exclusivity for theaters and gave the studios a chance to market their films again before hitting DVD or video on demand.
This move is a titanic shift for the industry. Kim Masters says, “WarnerMedia dropped what could be a nuclear weapon on Hollywood.”
Adding to the shock: WarnerMedia didn’t tell any of its filmmakers or theater companies that it was going to switch to this new release format. In some cases, filmmakers like Jon M. Chu made their movies with Warner Bros. specifically because they wanted an exclusive theatrical release. Chu’s “Crazy Rich Asians” was a huge theatrical hit for Warner Bros., so he opted to make his next film “In the Heights” with them as well. That movie will now go straight to streaming.
The decision also highlights how much AT&T, WarnerMedia’s parent company, wants to be a player in the streaming business, and how little they care about movie theaters.
WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar says this change will only be for 2021, but the feeling across the industry is that this particular genie will be hard to put back in the bottle.