In a significant milestone for streaming platforms, Warner Bros will release its entire 2021 slate of films on the streaming service HBO Max in the US on the same day the films come out in theatres. WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar said that these films — which include releases in hugely popular franchises like Matrix, The Conjuring, and Godzilla — will be available for one month on HBO Max in the United States. This deals a severe blow to the three-month theatrical window in the US, which the big screen industry has used to shield itself from turbulent changes in movie watching, like the advent of home video and the explosion of streaming.
Cracks in that traditional distribution model started showing with the COVID-19 pandemic, as heavyweights like Disney started experimenting with releases like Mulan by making them available to Disney+ subscribers for an additional fee. Disney called that strategy “promising“. WarnerMedia’s HBO Max strategy escalates this considerably, by releasing an entire year’s slate on-demand at the same time as theatrical. After an entire year accustomed to this kind of strategy, studios and exhibitors may struggle to reverse customer expectations of a quick online release accompanying theatrical premieres. Even if studios don’t do simultaneous releases past 2021, it may have lasting consequences. Warner has reportedly said that this measure is a pandemic one-off.
This move could also have significant consequences for Hollywood releases in India. While HBO Max isn’t yet available in India, high-fidelity rips of Warner films are almost certainly going to start circulating here when films release. This is a rare occurrence for Hollywood, which earns a very small portion of its global revenue from India, one of the worst offenders when it comes to digital piracy in the world. Even without an official streaming release, multiplexes distributing Hollywood films may be rethinking how much they rely on US studios to draw audiences. We have reached out to PVR and INOX for comment.