The movie giant has embraced a digital future. The rest of the industry would do well to pay mind.

In the most dramatic move by a Hollywood studio yet during the pandemic, Warner Bros. Pictures announced that all of its 2021 films — including a new “Matrix” movie, “Godzilla vs. Kong”, and the Lin-Manuel Miranda adaptation “In the Heights” — will stream on HBO Max at the same time the films play in theaters.
This week, the entertainment giant finally shattered Hollywood’s way of doing business, perhaps for all time. The company said its entire slate of movies for 2021 -17 in all- would drop onto its HBO Max streaming service on the same day they appear in theaters, abandoning the old system of “windowing” its cinematic releases.
Streaming is the future of content
Warner’s future lies primarily in making its streaming service the center of the action, and that means making the studio’s reliance on big theatrical releases a thing of the past. Embracing reality, the company chose to invests heavily film IP in vital direct-to-consumer (DTC) businesses, which is a trend that we have seen exploding in 2020.

“Our content is extremely valuable, unless it’s sitting on a shelf not being seen by anyone,” said Jason Kilar, CEO of WarnerMedia, in a statement. “We believe this approach serves our fans, supports exhibitors and filmmakers, and enhances the HBO Max experience, creating value for all.”

Is This the End of the Movie Theater?
It’s the most obvious takeaway, but it must be said: Theaters have no leverage here, and it’s unlikely they’ll regain any in time to stop the tides from shifting even further. Theater chains have previously fought tooth and nail against any potential decrease in the all-important exclusivity window, particularly in spats with Netflix over Oscar contenders like Roma and The Irishman. Prior to the pandemic, they could threaten to simply not allow a given release on their screens, jeopardizing both earning potential and awards eligibility. Now, their heaviest bargaining chip is off the table entirely.
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