BURBANK, Calif.—Warner Bros. Pictures Group has announced that all of its 2021 slate of films will be made available on the HBO Max streaming platform the same day as the movies are scheduled to be released in theaters in the same distribution plan that it previously announced for “Wonder Woman 1984.”
Much anticipated films like “Matrix 4,” “Dune,” Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “In the Heights,” the Denzel Washington-starring “The Little Things” and the Lebron James-led “Space Jam” sequel will be available for free to subscribers on the WarnerMedia-owned HBO Max streaming service for 31 days, after which point they will play exclusively in theaters with customary distribution windows.
In its announcement, Warner Bros. called the move a “consumer-focused distribution model” made in light of the ongoing pandemic. However, the studio says that it only intends to adhere to the model for one-year as it believes that most U.S. theaters will continue to operate at a reduced capacity throughout 2021, even if/when a vaccine for COVID-19 becomes available.
“With this unique one-year plan, we can support our partners in exhibition with a steady pipeline of world-class films, while also giving moviegoers who may not have access to theaters or aren’t quite ready to go back to the movies the chance to see our amazing 2021 films,” said Ann Sarnoff, chair and CEO, WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group.
WarnerMedia says that it will highlight “the unique opportunity to see our films domestically via HBO Max” in addition to what it says will be its traditional marketing campaigns for theatrical debuts.
While not directly mentioned in the announcement, another factor in this decision is the potential it has to bring in subscribers to HBO Max. The streaming service has gotten off to a slower start compared to some of its other streaming competitors, most notably Disney+. Disney adjusted some of its theatrical distribution plan in the last year—releasing a filmed stage production of the hit musical “Hamilton” free to subscribers and offering the anticipated “Mulan” live action film at a premium cost—that helped boost its subscriber numbers.
One factor in why HBO Max has had some early struggles is that it launched without being available on Amazon Fire and Roku devices. It has since become available on Amazon Fire, but is still not available on Roku.
HBO Max’s new strategy will kick off with the release of “Wonder Woman 1984” on Dec. 25.
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