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:

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.

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Filed Under: day and date, hbo max, hollywood, movie theaters, release windows, streaming
Companies: at&t, hbo


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  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 7 Dec 2020 @ 6:31am

    Was inevitable

    This was going to happen sooner or later, even without COVID-19 as an excuse.

    It doesn't mean that any of the movies will be any more likely to be worth watching. It just means that it will be more convenient to stay home and be disappointed by the movie in the comfort of your own home.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Dec 2020 @ 9:01am

      Re: Was inevitable

      It may have been inevitable, but we don't have to be hard hearted toward the buggy-whip makers. The guys who braided the leather for the whips can be retrained to wrap steering wheels in leather, or even weld fenders if they are industrious and willing to learn.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 7 Dec 2020 @ 6:18pm

        Re: Re: Was inevitable

        I can be hard-hearted toward companies trying to maintain a monopoly position with their overpriced and unsatisfactory experiences.

        Others who have innovated in the space will likely continue to do fine if more people stop engaging in crashing our world by refusing to act safely during a pandemic.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Dec 2020 @ 6:59am

    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.

    Apart from the 'for a maximum of a month' bit, as the Internet is not a limited means of reaching people like the cinemas are. They are giving pirates an excuse to pirate new releases to keep them available.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bloof (profile), 7 Dec 2020 @ 7:07am

    Kind of surprised to be honest, as a staggered Cinema, home video (while it's still a thing)/Digital download then streaming format gave them the potential to triple dip and get people to pay multiple times for a movie they like. Guess they either did the math and realised they can cut out countless middlemen this way and make as much money, or just said 'Hug it, we really, really need our streaming service to take off' and threw everything in.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    crade (profile), 7 Dec 2020 @ 7:36am

    "movies will only appear on HBO Max for a month before they disappear"
    what purpose could this possibly serve other than being a nuisance?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Dec 2020 @ 9:31am

    "You'll also probably pay far more to watch these movies than it's worth."

    Saw that Disney wanted $30 for the privilege of watching a certain new movie to be streamed. No way in the world I'm paying a monthly subscription charge to access Disney and then follow that by another $30. They can keep their silo.

    In case they haven't heard, tons of folk are out of job with this virus loose. They are worried about keeping utilities on, meeting rent, and food in the house.

    When they figure out that people are dropping their services for the same reason maybe they'll get their prices back down to reasonable or follow the way of the dinosaur. Right now, don't really care which they do.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    nasch (profile), 7 Dec 2020 @ 9:44am

    Why

    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.

    It has been this way before, therefore the way it has been must be preserved. Or, the problem of concentrated versus dilute benefit/harm. Movie theater chains have an intense interest in protecting their business model and can concentrate money and influence toward that goal. There is no one on the other side of the issue trying to make movies better for the public.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      crade (profile), 7 Dec 2020 @ 10:20am

      Re: Why

      It's not just the movie theater chains that are threatened by the new model, the movie and tv studios are fighting a losing battle against new competition. They have control over theaters that they can use to pretend netflix and amazon are not direct competition or competition on the same level.

      This sort of thing happens because the people who benefit from the traditional model and stand to lose from the new model are more powerful or more willing to bribe the government to get their way than the people who benefit from the new model.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Samuel Abram (profile), 7 Dec 2020 @ 1:09pm

        Re: Re: Why

        It's not just the movie theater chains that are threatened by the new model, the movie and tv studios are fighting a losing battle against new competition. They have control over theaters that they can use to pretend netflix and amazon are not direct competition or competition on the same level.

        It's not just Netflix and Amazon, but among Zoomers and even younger children like Generation Alpha, TikTok, Twitch (owned by Amazon) and YouTube (owned by Google) is where they see their new favorites. Disney, Comcast, AT&T, and Netflix have even more competition if you consider that there are infinitely more people making infinitely more content and they don't even need gatekeepers anymore.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    rkhalloran (profile), 7 Dec 2020 @ 10:15am

    Nice freebees

    I'm getting HBO Max as a freebee with my AT&T Fiber internet service, so all these movies are going to come gratis. Beats the crap out of coughing up for a four-pack of tickets to watch on a screen barely bigger than my home TV given the way they carve up rooms at the local multiplex. The theater owners must have seen this coming for a while; they need to offer something besides a larger screen and overpriced concessions to get bums in seats. Are they expecting the studios and/or government to force the status quo on their behalf?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Koby (profile), 7 Dec 2020 @ 10:38am

      Re: Nice freebees

      HBO Max costs $15 per month, so if you want to watch a movie, sign up for one month for the movie that you want to see, then cancel. Between the price of a ticket, plus concessions, its easily $15 right there where I live. Except now you get the whole rest of the month of HBO Max. Add in family members or friends to save even more on average. It seems like a lot of value.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        crade (profile), 7 Dec 2020 @ 1:31pm

        Re: Re: Nice freebees

        It does seem like it should be a good deal.. I was thinking about doing this before to watch game of thrones on HBO since I hadn't seen it.. the trouble ends up being that since I already have netflix and I have a queue of stuff I want to watch on there but don't even have the time to watch it all, there really doesn't seem to be any point to spend the money (20-40$ I guess) to binge game of thrones..

        If anything the way I might choose to handle it is to rotate through picking a different service each month to sign up for.. except the admin is too much of a pain so I just leave it with one since I always seem to be behind on things I want to watch anyway

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Dec 2020 @ 7:36pm

    Regions that don't have access to HBO Max won't notice any changes on this front. That's something which often gets overlooked in the discourse about this.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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