The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically altered the way that blockbuster movies are released. With theaters around the world temporarily closed (and their future uncertain) studios have had to get creative with their releases. Disney decided to air some of its big-ticket movies on Disney+ while others have decided to push their releases back to 2021.
WarnerMedia just made one of the most surprising moves of all. It announced that all of its 2021 movie releases will arrive on HBO Max the same day they premiere in theaters. That’s huge news not only for movie lovers but also for the streaming industry. More importantly, it is a blow to movie theaters—most of which have been struggling in recent months.
In conjunction with the decision, HBO Max is also ending its free trial program. This is the same strategy that Disney+ employed prior to debuting “Hamilton” over the summer. It guarantees that subscribers will pay for at least one month if they want to see some of 2021’s highly-anticipated movies.
Next year promises to be a huge one for the film industry. As a result of most studios pushing their big projects back to 2021, there are now double the movies to enjoy. WarnerMedia has a noteworthy array of films coming up.
Sci-fi and fantasy lovers will enjoy the likes of “Dune,” “Godzilla vs. Kong,” “Mortal Kombat,” “The Suicide Squad,” and “Matrix 4.”
Other big titles include, “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It,” “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” “The Many Saints of Newark,” “Tom & Jerry,” and more.
Ann Sarnoff, chief executive of WarnerMedia Studios said in an interview, “Given the unprecedented time that we’re in, we needed a creative solution to address our fans, our filmmakers, and our exhibitors. Big and bold is a necessity right now.”
Indeed, the studio’s move to air its films on HBO Max simultaneously with their theatrical run is unheard of. It angered major theater chains but has many movie fans excited about what’s to come.
Thanks to massive 4K TVs that are cheaper than ever, watching a movie at home is much closer to the theater experience than it used to be. Each of the above titles and all the others coming to HBO Max will arrive in 4K Ultra HD and HDR.
Saroff notes that the solution is temporary and could change after 2021. That being said, WarnerMedia could also find success with the strategy and continue it long-term.
The Fine Print
The only downside for consumers—aside from the fact that movie theaters remain closed—is that HBO Max no longer has a free trial. Those who want to watch “Dune” at home on its release date will need to sign up for an account with the streaming service.
Fortunately, there won’t be a premium charge to watch movies during their release window. That differs from the strategy used by Disney+, which charged customers an additional fee to stream blockbusters like “Mulan.”
As such, those who are already paying $15 a month for HBO Max are about to see their subscription become even more worthwhile.
Once each movie releases, it will stream on HBO Max for one month. Then, it will disappear from the platform temporarily so the studio can negotiate DVD and Blu-Ray deals and lease the rights to other networks. Eventually, many of the films will return to the platform.
It will be very interesting to see how this experiment plays out. If it works, other streaming services, namely Disney+, could follow suit. That would spell disaster for the movie theater industry but would be a lot of fun for home movie watchers.