The HBO/Warner Bros Decision: What Does This Mean For Cinema?
Warner Bros sent shockwaves around the film industry by announcing yesterday that they would release all of their upcoming content to their US streaming service, HBO Max, on the same day as they are released in theatres. A one-year plan has been set to adapt to the current climate of the world and constant film delays that means the likes of Denis Villeneuve's 'Dune' and 'The Matrix 4' will be accessible from your own home in 2021. With news like this, it raises alarm bells for film lovers and theatre chains as a lot is changing with consequences that are yet to be seen. The "Death of Cinema" is something that is constantly touted, sometimes way pre-emptively, and these conversations will be continuing with this monumental news.
Cinema chains such as AMC in America have already expressed their concerns for the future, with shares and market worth plummeting due to the pandemic. AMC are the largest theatre chain in the U.S and will be concerned of this news as it could directly affect their business going forward. Movie studios already command a large percentage of the ticket price - which leads to the excessive prices for concessions - and with the possibility to view new releases from home, it will undoubtedly deter people from going to the cinema as they can watch it from their own comforts. With this, it is perfectly understandable for these chains to be concerned but it may open up new discussions for how movie studios and theatres share profits. With a streaming platform that should give the studio more money directly, there are hopes that negotiations can take place to give extra support to movie chains due to the sure lower amount of customers. If not, then cinemas will have to adapt furthermore.
The plan is only for one-year and is perfectly understandable from the film studios point of view as well. As COVID-19 continues to plague the world, especially the U.S, there is no certainty that cinemas will be open as normal and with that, that all customers will return. The option of paying and viewing from the safeties of your own home is a more than viable option in this time of uncertainty which allows these studios to continue making money whilst releasing their long catalogue of delayed films.
For now, this is one studio and the change is only in America right now, with 'Wonder Woman 1984' slated to come out here in the U.K. on December 16th, despite most of the nations cinemas being closed. It's these kinds of issues that make this decision make more sense as a large portion of the U.K. lose out on the chance to view this film due to where they live. With this, the risks of the films being spoiled or torrented rises much higher as fans become desperate to keep up with the latest edition of their favourite franchise. As studios run the risk of losing money as people will be lead to illegally stream the films instead, it could be very possible that this decision becomes international.
This decision will undoubtedly be inspired by the successes of other streaming service such as Netflix and Disney+ who have flourished during this 'new normal'. Netlix continue to post all-time records within their service through film and TV series' without the same mass marketing or even franchise power that a lot of studios command. The Chris Hemsworth led 'Extraction' reached almost 100 million viewers in around a months time which is massive for a film based on a graphic novel that a wide audience were unaware of. The titles that HBO Max have scheduled are much higher profile properties and could surely smash these records, should the prices not be too extortionate.
Even looking at Disney's release of 'Mulan (2020)', it was reported that the film - excluding money made through Disney+ - made only $70 million through box office markets such as China, Russia and other Asian and Eastern European countries. But reports suggest that it was a success for Disney on their own platform, with a 68% increase in subscribers and earning $35.5 million in its opening weekend through streaming, amidst boycotts and the pandemic in general itself. For Disney, it must have done well enough to prompt them to release the upcoming PIxar film 'Soul' to Disney+ this Christmas rather than hold onto it for a date better suited for theatres.
For some, the idea of getting films like 'Wonder Woman 1984' to watch at home doesn't sound nearly as appealing as experiencing in a cinema. There really is no better way to experience blockbuster films than in a theatre with the best surround sound possible, making the most out of the films aspects that cater to the big screen experience. These types of films are much better suited as watching the high action drama and explosions doesn't have the same effect as in a cinema. For cinephiles, there is no better experience for watching any film than being in a cinema screen, regardless of the film's genre. The hardcore base that go multiple times a week will be concerned about the long term affects of this, with it being possible that chains decrease their showings to pack more screens, quite like we're seeing during the pandemic right now.
The filmgoing experience is the only thing that may be changing though for a lot of people. The films are staying the same and people will adapt to watching these films at home if they need to, the likes of 'Roma', 'The Irishman' and new Netflix release 'Mank' are great examples of how people will get behind these straight to streaming releases. Social media has done a good job in making people feel like the only way to enjoy films is in the perfect setting but it just isn't the case. Not everyone has the same romantic view of theatres anymore and can you blame them? High prices and no guarantee of a civil audience are only a couple of reasons as to why many have been turned away. As a huge fan of the filmgoing experience, I have to admit that I am always wary of going to see Horror films in a cinema simply due to the fact that other audience members cannot control themselves appropriately during a film.
There is a great romanticising of the film going experience but for the most part, this is a fantasy setting. Sure, it is great for a large number of critics and reporters who gain access to screenings with like minded folks who display the correct cinema etiquette but this is far from the case in most multiplexes. And it is because of this which is why so many film fans are accepting and appreciating this potential change. A lot of people already invest in making their home set ups better with wide collections of Blu-Rays due to the fact that it is a better experience for them. For many, the cinema is just the place where new movies are and they don't have this emotional attachment like so many others. With more films easily accessible to them in the comfort of their own homes, there's no wonder people will be taking this option up rather than being disturbed by chatty, texting causal punters.
With this in mind, we can definitely expect some propaganda from these chains to try and draw up these nostalgic feelings of the cinema to entice people to return to their multiplexes. We all have great memories of seeing certain films in the cinema that have indeed brought cherished memories. At the same time though, this doesn't rid the problems of cinemas and a much better use of these chains times would be to re-evaluate how they practice. If chains came out and introduced stricter guidelines for cinema etiquette, it would be much more enticing to a number of cinemagoers, rather than lulling over the flicks of yesteryear. The likeliness of this is probably slim but we can all agree that it would definitely be more enticing to the public as a guarantee of an experience worthy of their money. Cinema chains have to do something to make their businesses more appealing and adapt to the times, just like other businesses have had to do.
The decision brings a definite positive in the fact that films are going to become more accessible and that more people can see them. People who want to support cinemas and want to enjoy films on the biggest screen's possible will still be able to do so - whenever they are cleared to open - and those who feel safer or just more comfortable at home can do so. In this climate, you can't blame people for being turned to this new alternative that will bring change as to how the film industry operates. Rather than looking at this as doom and gloom for certain aspects, it also brings an opportunity for areas to be improved and give us all as film fans, better film-watching experiences. Nobody wants cinema's to disappear and I don't believe they ever will but change was always going to happen in these current times. Of course, change can be scary but for one year, this new outlook could be a benefit to the industry and satisfy the needs of all which would absolutely be the best outcome.