Warner Bros. made the biggest response to the global pandemic when it was announced late last year that following the HBO Max release of Wonder Woman 1984, every movie on the 2021 WB slate would get the same treatment. Namely by opening in theaters and on the streaming service at the same time. With so many entertainment companies shifting focus towards streaming services, many wonder if this toothpaste will actually be put back in the tube next year, or if we will see these day-and-date releases continue after this year is over.
HBO Max's chief content officer Casey Bloys recently spoke with EW and he was asked if he expected the streaming service to host new WB movies into 2022. While Bloys avoided making any specific comment on the topic, he did reiterate previous comments made by members of WarnerMedia. This plan was a specific response to the current environment, and so when things change regarding COVID, they will change on HBO Max. According to the CCO,
I don't want to comment on that specifically other than to say, I believe that [Warner Bros. chairman Toby Emmerich, Chairman, WarnerMedia Studios Chair, and CEO Ann Sarnoff, WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar] have all said this is very much the result of COVID. So I don't think that would be the case in 2022. However, the idea is for Warner Bros. to do a slate of movies for us at HBO Max going forward. But that particular strategy about going day and date with theaters was very much COVID dependent.
So in the eyes of HBO Max, any possibility of the current plan continuing into 2022 would depend on whether the pandemic situation made such a thing necessary. With vaccines being distributed, it's impossible to know for sure what that situation will look like a year from now, but it seems that things are on the upswing and theaters will likely be in a much better place 12 months from now. Yesterday Disney's CEO said he did not expect masks and social distancing to be necessary inside the theme parks by 2022, and if we can get through theme parks without those restrictions, movie theaters will likely be in a very similar place.
At the same time, there's the business side of this to look at from the HBO Max perspective. The decision to release WB films there was clearly not only meant to be a place to launch the movies, but also a way to help boost subscriptions to the streaming service. If a lot of people sign up specifically to watch these movies, they could just as easily unsubscribe once the movies are no longer there, and HBO Max and WB aren't going to want to see that happen.
Streaming as a platform is certainly here in the long term, and products that disrupt established models are always seen with some skepticism. Whether the pandemic has changed the game forever or truly just been a blip o the radar is a question we likely won't be able to answer for years to come.