Warner Bros streaming push deals blow to cinemas

Ben Woods
·2-min read
Wonder Woman 1984 will be released to streaming subscribers at the same time as movie goers
Wonder Woman 1984 will be released to streaming subscribers at the same time as movie goers

Cinemas are facing a fresh crisis after one of Hollywood's biggest studios announced plans to release new films simultaneously to its streaming service and movie theatres.

Warner Bros studio has confirmed the cinema industry's worst fears by revealing next year's slate of 17 films will also go straight to its subscription service HBO Max.

It means big budget movies such as Mortal Kombat, Godzilla vs Kong, The Suicide Squad and The Matrix 4 will be available to HBO Max subscribers the day they are released.

The year-long strategy comes after the studio revealed last month that Wonder Woman 1984 would be debut on HBO Max at the same time as movie theatres. 

Ann Sarnoff, chief executive of WarnerMedia Studios, said: "No one wants films back on the big screen more than we do. We know new content is the lifeblood of theatrical exhibition, but we have to balance this with the reality that most theaters in the US will likely operate at reduced capacity throughout 2021.”

The move may not directly affect UK cinemas because HBO Max is not available here, but it is likely to prompt a cinema industry backlash amid fears it will set a precedent other studios will follow. 

Warner bros
Warner bros

It comes as the pandemic continues to hammer the cinema sector, as lockdown measures keep viewers away. 

That has prompted studios to break ties with the so-called theatrical window protecting exclusive film releases to cinemas in favour of  a direct route to market through streaming. 

Odeon owner AMC banned movies released by Universal in April after the Hollywood studio said it would release films simultaneously in response to the pandemic. 

Meanwhile, Universal struck a deal with the theatre chain Cinemark last month that will shorten the theatrical window from three months to 17 days. 

The cinema industry will fear entertainment giant Disney could make a similar announcement, with House of Mouse holding an investor day on Thursday next week. 

Disney, which owns Avengers maker Marvel Studios, had a 33pc share of the movie market in Britain and Ireland last year, according to media analysts Comscore.

Cineworld, the world's second-biggest cinema operator, was forced to secure a debt lifeline worth £563m in November to survive the pandemic. 

Cineworld's 127 Cineworld and Picturehouse theatres in the UK and 536 Regal ­theatres in the US have been shut since last month as restrictions on social gatherings and film release delays made it too costly to keep its sites open.