With Warner Bros. ‘Rethinking’ Its Approach To Releases, Are More Movies Coming To Homes Instead?

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Movie studios and the theaters that exhibit films are facing an unprecedented setback. Since movie theaters nationwide have remained closed for over a month and plan to continue into the middle of summer, studios such as Warner Bros are “rethinking” their business models in regards to theatrical releases. In WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey's words:

This experience will change many things, including customer behaviors and expectations. We're evaluating our product distribution strategy, re-looking at volumes and the required support levels we need in a down economy. We're rethinking our theatrical model and looking for ways to accelerate efforts that are consistent with the rapid changes in consumer behavior from the pandemic. Now our focus is on defining and leveraging the new normal across all of our operations.

Earlier this week, Warner Bros announced its first planned release to completely skip a theatrical release and become available on digital. Scoob! will drop on May 15 for a $19.99 rental or $24.99 purchase. For now the rest of the studio’s big early summer releases such as Wonder Woman 1984 has simply been moved to a later date. Due to production stalls, many movies off of Warner Bros’ DC line-up were shifted back as well.

Warner Bros is actively trying to find ways to combat the money it is losing without the income of movie tickets during movie theater closures. Although theater chains have announced plans to start opening its doors in July just in time for Christopher Nolan’s Tenet to make its planned release date, John Stankey didn’t show complete confidence in a sudden recovery for chains. Here’s what else the WarnerMedia CEO said during the company’s quarterly call:

The theatrical business is obviously a stressed business right now. When theaters are closed, it's hard to generate revenue. And don't expect that that's going to be a snap-back. I think that’s going to be something that we’re going to have to watch, the formation of consumer confidence, not just about going to movies, just in general about being back out in public.

Warner Bros is getting ready to launch its own streaming service HBO Max on May 27 and produce more content for the platform that Netflix, Disney+, Hulu and AppleTV+ have found success with. The question is whether a statement such as this will result in more Warner Bros movies to go straight to digital like Scoob!.

Universal was the first studio to go against the theatrical model when the studio decided to release Trolls World Tour for rental on digital instead of moving its April release. Theater chains were unhappy with Universal’s decision to skip the theatrical model, commenting that “exhibitors will not forget this.”

Disney also made the move with Artemis Fowl, which will now stream exclusively on Disney+ in June. This trend has only affected family-friendly movies thus far. Event films that are looking at millions, maybe billions in worldwide box office earnings have been pushed back. Warner Bros’ In the Heights was just pushed a full year to keep its theatrical date. In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter following the meeting, John Stankey reaffirmed his commitment to the theaters with this:

We are committed to — and are excited about — releasing Tenet in theaters this summer or whenever theaters reopen. We remain supportive of the theatrical experience and our exhibition partners, and are confident that our tentpole titles, including Tenet and Wonder Woman 1984, are exactly the type of films that will have people eager to return to theaters. Theatrical films have always been a major part of our ecosystem. I fully expect that as we evaluate our business going forward, we will continue to champion creative work that is worthy of the theatrical experience.

Neither theaters or studios are in an easy spot at the moment. Tenet is still set to be released on July 17 and Wonder Woman 1984 is coming on August 14. Stay up to date on what’s coming to theaters here on CinemaBlend.

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

Sarah El-Mahmoud has been with CinemaBlend since 2018 after graduating from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in Journalism. In college, she was the Managing Editor of the award-winning college paper, The Daily Titan, where she specialized in writing/editing long-form features, profiles and arts & entertainment coverage, including her first run-in with movie reporting, with a phone interview with Guillermo del Toro for Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water. Now she's into covering YA television and movies, and plenty of horror. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.