HBO, AT&T Execs Defend Streaming Warner Bros. 2021 Film Releases

As 2020 wraps, more disagreements about theatrical releases appear on 2021's horizon.


No matter how you measure it, the coronavirus' impact on life as we knew it before this year has been seismic--and in some ways, potentially, irreversible. In the movie industry alone, productions and release dates have been steadily beset with delays, uncertainty, and suddenly changing business models. The latter has been no secret to audiences and studios behind the expected blockbuster releases this year--many of which, such as Christopher Nolan's Tenet and Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman 1984, have had to make tough decisions regarding pivoting expected theatrical releases to video on demand debuts. (Tenet held firm to theatrical, WW1984 will be doing both.)

And so, it was not really shocking when Warner Bros. announced its 2021 film slate would have simultaneous releases in theaters and on HBO Max--but the shift has been drawing strong criticism due to the fact that the studio reportedly "did not consult the actors, agents, or directors of the 17 films that make up that slate, and it didn’t make distribution deals with cinemas," according to CNBC.

"We've been trying to figure out the best way forward for the last eight months, since we first went into lockdown," Ann Sarnoff, the chairman and CEO of Warner Bros. said. "We have many movies which are ready to go, and they’ve been sitting on shelves. So we thought this was the most creative and win-win situation to bring them not only to theaters but simultaneously for 31 days on HBO Max."

John Stankey, CEO of AT&T, WarnerMedia's parent company, went even further, calling the decision a "win-win-win," meaning for the company, its parents, and its consumers, which he said during the UBS Global TMT Virtual Conference (via The Hollywood Reporter).

But others aren't seeing it that way--especially due to the seemingly sudden urgency with which the decision was reached. Speaking with THR, Nolan said, "Some of our industry's biggest filmmakers and most important movie stars went to bed the night before thinking they were working for the greatest movie studio and woke up to find out they were working for the worst streaming service."

Speaking more pragmatically, Stankey said, "I know there's a lot of noise out in the market, people with different viewpoints… [but that happens] anytime you are going to change a model."

David Wolinsky on Google+

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