“The Batman,” starring Robert Pattison as The Caped Crusader, is one of the biggest hits of the year. But if you haven’t had time to see it, don’t worry. It’s now on HBO Max (DISCA) – Get the Class A report from Discovery, Inc.even though it only opened on March 4th.
And the most surprising thing is that this kind of lightning-fast turnaround from theatrical release to streaming premiere is that it’s not so surprising anymore. That might be good for moviegoers, but is it bad for the movie industry?
The theatrical release window is tighter than ever
As DVD sales, the advent of streaming and on-demand video rentals all changed the way people could view movies, theater owners pushed for a period of exclusivity, usually d at least 90 days, before a major studio movie becomes available elsewhere.
As VOD became more popular in the second half of the 10s, it became quite common for independent and low-budget films to be available for rental through Apple as soon as they hit theaters. But usually, studios would refrain from making their big hits available too soon.
Even in 2019, blockbuster movies like “Avengers: Endgame” and “Spider-Man: Far From Home” weren’t available to stream or Blu-Ray until at least three months later. But studios still reeling from the collapse of the DVD market (once a very lucrative source of revenue for movie studios) following the streaming boom were looking for other ways to monetize their product.
In the 1970s and 1980s, a film’s viewership could grow over time, and sometimes positive word of mouth could turn a long-running film like “Harold and Maude” from an underperformer at the box office. into a success. This model still works for some independent or boutique films, but studios are aware that nowadays films make most of their money in the first month, at least in terms of ticket sales.
So studios are eager to strike a licensing deal with Netflix or put their latest movie on their own streaming platform (every major studio except Sony has one) to boost their subscriber count. But the studios don’t want to piss off distributors and movie chains either. Or at least they don’t want to make them angry also a lot.
But for the studios, finding the middle ground between happiness for theater owners, but also happiness for subscribers, has proven to be a delicate balance.
Is 45 days now the new norm?
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed society in ways we only now understand, and the film industry certainly has.
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When theaters largely closed in 2020, studios all took different tactics.
While Marvel certainly had the option of releasing “Black Widow” on Disney+ (SAY) – Get The Walt Disney Company Reportin the summer of 2020, but decided to wait a year, until the availability of vaccines made people feel safe to return to wards.
But Warner has decided to release its highly anticipated superhero film “Wonder Woman 1984” on its recently relaunched HBO Max streamer, as well as the Oscar-nominated movie “Judas and the Black Messiah.”
But the past year has been one of rocky rebuilding for a film industry that was unsure of the way forward.
Even when vaccines became common, many people were understandably nervous about going back to the movies. So, for the whole of the past year, Warner Bros. has been releasing high-profile movies like “Dune” and “The Suicide Squad” in both theaters and HBO Max on the same day. (The relatively weak performance of “The Suicide Squad” was taken as an indication that people were still a bit nervous about returning to theaters.)
But by fall, studios had settled on what, to them, seemed like a happy medium. Theaters might have blockbusters like “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” or Ryan Reynolds’ comedy “Free Guy” for 45 days exclusively, but then studios like Paramount Warner Bros. and Disney would stream them.
While good news for beleaguered movie chains like AMC (AMCX) – Get Class A report from AMC Networks Inc., which desperately relies on franchise films to entice people to buy tickets, is that it has at least some exclusivity. But does he become the end of the stick?
“The Batman” turned out to be a big hit, grossing an impressive $365 million at the US box office. But ten years ago, previous Batman films did even better, with “The Dark Knight Rises” grossing $448 million and “The Dark Knight” grossing $534 million.
With that in mind, bringing Pattison’s take on Batman to streaming services so quickly, the new Warner Bros. Is Discovery undermining the film’s ability to ultimately match those numbers?
And will AMC feel the pinch when more casual moviegoers, who once would have caught a popular movie on a Tuesday night a month later to avoid the crowds, now know they just have to wait six weeks before not be streamed?
After an empty run in 2021, “The Batman” looks like the first stress test for Hollywood’s new 45-day streaming model. How this plays out for both AMC and HBO Max will tell us a lot about how movies will be streamed and viewed in the future.