AT&T, HBO Put Another Bullet In Antiquated Theatrical Release Windows
from the inevitability dept
Among the dated and dumb business concepts exposed as folly during the pandemic is the traditional Hollywood film release window, which typically involves a 90 day gap between the time a move appears in theaters and its streaming or DVD release (in France this window is even more ridiculous at three years). The goal is usually to “protect the traditional film industry,” though it’s never been entirely clear why you’d protect traditional theaters at the cost of common sense, consumer demand, and a more efficient model. Just because?
While the industry has flirted with the idea of “day and date” releases for decades (releasing movies on home video at the same time as brick and mortar theaters), there’s long been a lot of hyperventilation on the part of movie theaters and traditionalists that this sort of shift wasn’t technically possible or would somehow destroy the traditional “movie experience,” driving theaters out of business.
The pandemic has changed everything. To the point where AT&T/HBO this week announced that the company’s entire lineup of 2021 films will be released on the company’s streaming platform (HBO Max) the same time it hits theaters. There are some caveats: it’s a one year trial, and movies will only appear on HBO Max for a month before they disappear (though they may return later). You’ll also probably pay far more to watch these movies than it’s worth. But it’s still a sensible shift given the circumstances, as Warner Brothers (AT&T) made clear it a statement:
“We’re living in unprecedented times which call for creative solutions, including this new initiative for the Warner Bros. Pictures Group,” said Warner Bros. CEO Ann Sarnoff. “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 U.S. will likely operate at reduced capacity throughout 2021.”
Yes, it sucks for those whose livelihoods rely on traditional brick and mortar theaters. But these are the same theaters that saw the writing on this particular wall long before COVID came to town, and decided to spend much of their time pouting instead of adapting for the inevitable. Even then, traditional theaters will someday bounce back, buoyed by those who feel a trip out to the movies is an essential cornerstone of everyday life. It’s just not going to be until vaccines are commonplace and congregating indoors for prolonged periods is no longer a potential death sentence.
This isn’t exclusively about the pandemic, of course. AT&T has been losing traditional TV and streaming subscribers hand over fist after a bunch of expensive mergers, branding confusing, and other executive incompetence. They’re running behind giants like Netflix and others, and want the added attention. Scuttlebutt also suggests the company is hoping to use the announcement to pressure Roku into carrying HBO Max and ending their longstanding feud:
— Todd Spangler (@xpangler) December 3, 2020
Either way, it’s another step in the right direction toward no longer embracing antiquated concepts like release windows that no longer make sense in the broadband era. This being AT&T there’s almost certainly going to be dumb caveats tied to these releases (ridiculous pricing probably being among them), but baby steps and all that.