Whitney Ervin, Correspondent
Last week, Warner Brothers announced that in 2021 it will release all of their upcoming feature films on HBO Max in tandem with theatrical releases.
This includes many of the most highly anticipated films of 2021 including Wonder Woman 1984, Dune and Godzilla vs. Kong. They have stated this model is not planned to run through 2022 depending on the state of the pandemic.
This hasn’t stopped the reactions to this news from being overwhelmingly negative from within the film community.
Legendary Entertainment, the company co-producing Dune and Godzilla vs. Kong, has threatened legal action. They claim to not have been notified of Warner Brother’s decision until the day the announcement was made and were not consulted on the matter.
Some filmmakers, like Dune director Denis Villeneuve, feel their films being released directly to streaming on the same day as their theatrical release is doing their films a disservice.
Director Jon M. Chu is described as feeling “shell-shocked” by the decision, as he had passed on opportunities to work with Netflix because he “loves the communal theatre experience.” While the films are still getting a theatrical release, they will likely not see the numbers they’d projected.
Acclaimed Inception director Christopher Nolan, ripped into their decision.
“Some of our industry’s biggest filmmakers and most important movie stars went to bed the night before thinking they were working for the greatest movie studio and woke up to find out they were working for the worst streaming service,” said Nolan to the Hollywood Reporter.
Nolan’s comments echo the general feeling that Warner Brothers’s decision to release feature films on HBO Max is purely for their own benefit, while disregarding filmmakers and other companies (such as Legendary Entertainment) which help produce their films.
With the COVID-19 pandemic steadily continuing to be a threat, it was safe to assume that movie theatres would see losses. Many filmmakers were hoping to buffer out those losses by selling the streaming rights to third parties.
The decision to release films on HBO Max — which was made without consulting filmmakers — blocked opportunities to sell the rights to other third party streaming services.
This causes a considerable loss to production companies such as Legendary Entertainment who were offered $250 million by Netflix for the streaming rights to Godzilla vs. Kong.
So, with the overwhelmingly negative reaction and the issues this could cause in the future: why would WarnerMedia make this decision, especially since they don’t seem to plan for it to be a lasting business model?
The simple answer seems to be that this is all an attempt to drive up the platform’s subscribers.
Seeing that WarnerMedia owns HBO Max, Warner Brothers stands to benefit the most from the increased number of subscribers they’ll likely see in response to such high profile projects being released on the platform.
A simple look into the streaming platforms numbers makes it easy to see why WarnerMedia was desperate to pull in subscribers. They’re barely competing with other, more prominent streaming platforms. Netflix, the leading streamer, has approximately 193 million subscribers. Disney+, whose success WarnerMedia seems to be trying to emulate, has 73 million subscribers.
HBO Max on the other hand, has only reached 12.6 million subscribers. These numbers put it far from the big league they seem to want to play in. Furthermore, they’ve now damaged professional relationships which made Warner Brothers stand out as a production company. Warner Brothers used to be the main place filmmakers wanted to be, but now it is the last place.
It seems WarnerMedia never quite learned not to bite the hand that feeds them.