After Tenet Debacle, Warner Bros. is Figuring Out How To Release Movies

AT&T CEO John Stankey discussed the future of theatrical releases for Warner Bros. during an investor call.

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It's been a rough year for movie studios as the COVID-19 pandemic has kept movie theaters closed--for the most part--since the spring. Warner Bros. took a leap back in September releasing Christopher Nolan's Tenet in theaters--ones that could safely open--and so far, it has only done $50 million domestically.

Warner's parent company AT&T has been trying to watch the market to see how to approach it in the future. "That's still one of the things we don't have great visibility on," explained AT&T CEO John Stankey in an investor call. "We've done some experimentation. Done a few things. I can't tell you that we walked away from the Tenet experience saying it was a home run. I'm happy we did it. I think the team was incredibly creative. I think we learned a couple things about what we can do. I actually believe if theaters were open nation-wide, if California and New York were open, we'd have some latitude to be able to do some of these geographic specific releases and work through that."

This brings the future of movie releases into question. The September launch of Tenet--along with a few other movies--didn't bring in the box office people had hoped. So Warner Bros. will make decisions on a seasonal basis. "So maybe as we get to a place where there is a little more consistent footprint we can do some more," continued Stankey. "I'd say the holiday season is going to be the next big checkpoint to see what occurs and whether or not we can actually move some content back into theatrical exhibition. We're going to have to make a gametime decision on that based on what's happening in different geographies and what's happening effectively with infection counts in the country."

The next big theatrical release for Warner is Wonder Woman: 1984, which is set to release on Christmas. Considering that the pandemic in the US is going through a second wave, movie theaters opening fully in two months doesn't seem exceptionally likely. However, movie production has picked back up. Stankey noted that there are currently 130 productions up and running. Normally, this number is around 180.

"We're still committed to want to try to put some of the content that we think is the most important into a theatrical channel if that makes sense," said Stankey. "We're expecting this to be incredibly choppy moving into next year."

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