Last December, Warner Bros. created quite a stir in the industry when it announced that its entire slate of 2021 feature films would be released simultaneously both in theatres and online on the HBO Max streaming service. Exhibitors howled at the studio’s decision to eliminate the exclusive theatrical window, signaling the end of more than a century of partnering with theatres to promote their films
Only four months later, it seems that WB is now well along in its path to redemption. The studio’s release strategy has not changed, but the results of the decision have begun to play out, with some promising returns both in theatres and online. As it so happens, Warner Bros.’ films have tallied four of the top five box office weekends of the pandemic, led by Godzilla Vs. Kong’s opening weekend two weeks ago, which earned $31.6M in the Domestic market over three days. Equally important for the studio has been its success in growing the number of subscribers to HBO Max, which brings a recurring revenue stream through a direct customer relationship with consumers. By contrast, many studio films have either bypassed theatres entirely by redirecting to streaming-only releases or have pushed back theatrical releases to future dates when the pandemic restrictions will have eased. At least in the short term, WB’s strategy has amounted to a win-win-win, for the studio, exhibitors, and the consumer, providing big-ticket film entertainment across all channels. However, as other studio releases do return, exhibitors may pull back on WB titles in favor of films from studios that still offer an exclusive theatrical release window. Paramount’s A Quiet Place Part 2 will debut on May 28th, Universal’s F9 releases on June 25th, and Disney/Marvel’s Black Widow will premiere in theatres and on Disney+ on July 9th.