HBO Max and the Lose-Lose Situation of the Film Industry
WB movies will now premiere on HBO Max day-in-date with theaters in 2021.
The Warner Bros. run streaming service HBO Max, has just changed the game on theatrical releases. They have announced, and are the first studio to double down on streaming their new releases. Meaning every theatrical release from WB in 2021, from Tom and Jerry to The Suicide Squad, will be on HBO Max for the first month of their theatrical release.
It also appears that unlike Disney’s Mulan, these films won’t be charged an extra premium fee beyond the subscriptions service fee in order to watch these.
Most audiences and film goers praise this decision. It’s easy to see why, practically no one feels safe going to theaters and even after a vaccine is made readily available for the Covid-19 virus, there’s no telling when people will feel safe to go again. This is an amazingly pro consumer move and there really isn’t any downsides to it for us fans. The only thing missing is the fun of seeing these movies in a crowd setting.
But business wise this was a sticky situation. Big movies employ so many people the only way to realistically break even is by doing a big worldwide release. That’s why even big movies now cater to rating and content restrictions of other country’s laws. It’s just part of the business.
Not to mention contract stipulations and licensing deals dependent on theatrical releases. Cast and crew who would get bonuses and percentages of the theatrical gross, brand deals timed for a theatrical window, and plenty other hurdles in the way.
But the issue with this is, that even if movies go theatrical they won’t make the same amount they would before the pandemic.
And if companies aren’t releasing movies, that just means more time with something sitting on a shelf with no actual income.
It’s a real rock and a hard place situation. The studios, employees, and the theater industry all just want to stay afloat like any business. And it seems like no solution will make everyone happy.
No matter how the movies release, a lot of people will be left in the dust. Theatrical releases will keep all the percentages in the contracts well and good but most audiences still don’t feel safe in theaters.
Straight to streaming will cut out theatrical release deals with theaters and also potentially mess with plans made with online stores that sell digital copies of the films.
Also if it goes straight to streaming but costs a premium, like Mulan did, then you could potentially alienate your viewers if you price it to high.
All of this is to say, I get why WB decided to do this with their 2021 film slate. And I also get why so many WB filmmakers and partners are angered by this. Their distribution and production partners should be angry about this, especially if they weren’t consulted before the decision was made.
But like I said, there is no winning with releasing movies this year and in the near future. The best that can be done is making pro-consumer choices that actually benefits the people buying the product. That ensures at least some money will be made even if they can’t break even on each project.
It’s logistically going to require a lot of legal costs to renegotiate contracts with almost every party involved for projects that are done and just need distribution.
And going forward the industry and the way movies are made will have to be changed.
Studios in the past few years have been banking on giant $200 million movies for their income. This is largely due to Disney’s success with MCU and Star Wars movies. But that just isn’t sustainable anymore for most studios, not in this post Covid-19 world.
Movies that expensive require a worldwide release in theaters to break even. And if you’re not Disney, odds are you can’t risk spending that much in a market that’s barely open any more.
I’m quietly hoping this might bring back the mid-budget movie. Things that only cost somewhere between $25–70 million to make. Movies that don’t have to worry about catering to a massive worldwide audience and can tell more personal and unique stories.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my big blockbuster movies as much as the next guy, but I’m also tired of most major releases just trying to be an MCU movie.
This change in the industry is going to get ugly. The scale and availability of jobs is going to change. I’m just hoping the right changes are made in a way that avoids massive layoffs.