One of the most significant decisions any media company made due to the pandemic was WarnerMedia announcing that all of its 2021 movies would debut simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max’s service. In December, when the announcement was made, we still weren’t sure what the world would look like by the end of 2021 or how long it would take for theaters to fully open back up again. Five months later, the US is now vaccinating more than 3 million eligible adults a day, and so it comes as no surprise that Warner’s experiment will end this year.
Speaking with Peter Kafka on a recent episode of Vox’s Recode Media podcast, WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar said that big, blockbuster movies will go exclusively to theaters again first next year before streaming.
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“I think it’s very fair to say that a big, you know, let’s say a big DC movie … it’s very fair to say that that would go exclusively to theaters first and then go to somewhere like an HBO Max after it’s in theaters,” Kilar told Kafka. We know that every 2021 Warner movie is already set to hit HBO Max day and date with theaters, but presumably, as soon as the calendar flips to 2022, movies like The Batman and The Flash will have exclusive theatrical runs.
As Vox points out, this confirmation shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Just weeks ago, Cineworld (which owns Regal) announced that WarnerMedia movies would have a 45-day window of theatrical exclusivity at Regal beginning in 2022. Kilar’s comments suggest this will be the case at other theater chains as well.
So far, Kilar says that he’s happy with his company’s decision to combine theatrical and streaming debuts, citing the $50 million opening weekend for Godzilla vs. Kong in its opening weekend despite its availability on HBO Max. He told investors that the strategy has attracted new subscribers and kept those who were already subscribed from leaving, but he also admits that Warner could have done a better job explaining the plan to theaters.
“There’s no doubt that it was bumpy back in early December of last year,” Kilar said during his podcast appearance. “If I had the chance to do it over again, I think it’s very fair to say that we would have taken a couple more days to see if we could have had even more conversations than we were able to have.”
Several major media companies experimented with bringing movies to their service either instead of or alongside a theatrical release, but with normalcy appearing more obtainable in the not-too-distant future, the HBO Max and Disney+ Premier Access debuts might be left behind along with the pandemic by the end of 2022.
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