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The Hollywoods were no longer in Kansas

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LOS ANGELES To explain why WarnerMedia decided to release the much-anticipated big-budget Wonder Woman 1984 simultaneously in theaters and on the HBO Max streaming service on Christmas Day, the company’s chief executive, Jason Kilar, teased the film. Hollywood classic The Wizard of Oz.

Were no longer in Kansas, Mr. Kilar said in a report.

Plus, he said, a film’s success would no longer be judged solely by the box office revenue it generates in theaters. Instead, it would be measured in part by how many HBO Max subscribers it is able to attract. And just as Dorothy enters the Technicolor world of Oz, Hollywood feels like it’s entering a new era with streaming at the center.

The holiday season usually means theaters are teeming with blockbusters, hopes and moviegoers. Not this year. With many cinemas closed due to the coronavirus and those that are open struggling to attract audiences, many studios have either pushed back big movie release dates to 2021 or created a hybrid model in which theaters are still on the move. activity can show new releases while they are also available via streaming or on-demand services.

Wonder Woman 1984 is the most striking example to date to be released using the hybrid model. But when it does appear on HBO Max on Christmas Day, it will join Pixars and DreamWorks Animated Soul The Croods: A New Age as blockbuster, holiday season movies that should be box office favorites but which are now likely to be primarily seen. in people’s living rooms.

For companies that have their own streaming platforms, like WarnerMedia and Disney, posting movies this way is now seen as an opportunity to generate subscriptions. Both companies have said the measures will only last during the pandemic, but they have also recently reorganized their executive responsibilities to make it clear that streaming is the new priority. (Disney, for example, now has a central division that decides how its content is distributed, a shift in strategy that puts Disney + at the top of studios’ priorities.) And audiences may not want studios to go back to the old way of posting. films that gave cinemas 90 days of exclusive rights.

There will be a new normal, said Jason Squire, editor of The Movie Business Book and professor in the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California. Over the years there has been a lot of tension between theatrical exhibition and studio distribution but not much change. The pandemic has reignited change.

Not long ago, Hollywood saw streaming as an unwanted insurgency. Several years ago, when Netflix started competing in earnest for the Oscars, traditionalists scoffed at the idea of ​​awarding prestigious awards to films that had only nominated theatrically. (This year, bowing to the reality of the pandemic, the film academy announced that the films could skip a theatrical release and be eligible for the Oscars.)

However, studios have long wanted to shorten the exclusive window given to theaters. Theater chains have been lobbying aggressively against this, fearing that people will be reluctant to buy tickets to a movie they may soon see at home.

The sanctity of the theatrical release was zealously guarded even after the pandemic lockdowns began. In April, Universal Pictures successfully launched on-demand video for Trolls World Tour and said it would make more movies available this way without an exclusive theatrical release. Adam Aron, chief executive of AMC, the world’s largest theater operator, called the move categorically unacceptable and said his company would no longer book Universal films.

In July, however, the two companies signed a multi-year agreement whereby Universal films would air in AMC theaters for at least 17 days before becoming available in homes via premium video on demand, or PVOD in the. language of industry. Last week, Universal signed similar deals with Cinemark, the third largest theater chain in North America, and Cineplex, Canada’s largest exhibitor, adding the provision that for films opening at $ 50 million in ticket sales, the exclusive cinema window will extend to 31 days.

The shortened window means the studio can theoretically spend less on marketing than is typically required when theatrical and home video debuts are three months apart. And studios typically keep 80% of premium on-demand revenue, while ticket sales for theatrical releases are split roughly 50-50 between studios and theater companies.

Our hope is that by bringing PVOD to market we will improve the profitability of the studio and as a result there will be more films hitting theaters, said Peter Levinsohn, vice president and chief distribution officer of Universal. The overall goal here is to be more efficient in our marketing, to keep movies more profitable, and to prevent movies from being sold to subscription services like Netflix or Amazon.

Warner Bros. chose to champion the proven theatrical model, hoping that Christopher Nolans Tenet would bring people back to the movies this summer after the first wave of the virus passed and 68% of US theaters were able to reopen. But with theaters still closed in the two biggest markets, New York and Los Angeles, the film only grossed $ 56 million on its entire tour of the United States. It was a far cry from Mr. Nolans’ previous theatrical achievements, such as Interstellar, which grossed $ 188 million domestically, and a stern warning to other distributors that the traditional way of releasing films was not going to work in 2020.

Today, the theatrical climate is darker. Half of theaters in the United States are closed, and cases of the virus are on the rise across the country. Regal Cinemas, the second largest chain in the United States, has closed all of its theaters citing a lack of films and audiences. While there is no federal grant program available for theaters soon, John Fithian, chief executive of the national theaters trade association, said he expects 70% of they either closed permanently or filed for bankruptcy early next year.

Big budget shows have caused audiences to flock to theaters, even through waves of home entertainment competition, from VCRs to streaming. This has benefited both theater channels and studios, and that’s why few people expect films the size of Wonder Woman 1984 to air directly after the pandemic.

Moving away from cinemas would affect the types of films made. In short, if there is less box office money to be raised due to a reduction in the number of theaters or a permanent change in consumer behavior, studios would be forced to make fewer films. big budget. For those who think Hollywood has become too dependent on superhero movies, this may actually be good news. The thousands of people employed by each of these films would undoubtedly have a different perspective.

But others aren’t sure the change will be so drastic, underscoring the power of the theatrical experience.

Charles Roven, producer of Wonder Woman 1984, said in an interview that he was convinced its release was not a sign of a new long-term strategy. There is no doubt that they want to make HBO Max a success and they should, he said of Warner Bros. But to say that this particular thing is going to happen in the future would be to jump.

Disney opted to bypass U.S. theaters entirely and release the $ 200 million Mulan on Disney + in September, charging subscribers $ 30 on top of their monthly subscription to watch the live-action adaptation of the animated film. Sales were affected by an uproar over a location in China, but Bob Chapek, managing director of Disneys, told analysts earlier this month he saw enough very positive results before the controversy do start to know that we got something here in terms of main access. strategy. Disney plans to send several more big budget movies to Disney +.

For studios without their own streaming services, the math is a little different. While many have chosen to postpone their theatrical releases until 2021, others have sold films to collect money. Paramount unloaded The Trial of the Chicago 7 on Netflix and Coming to America 2 on Amazon, for example. In a sense, Netflix is ​​currently one of the few studios still shipping product to struggling channels. By the end of the year, Netflix will be releasing eight of its films in limited series theaters before appearing on the service, including potential Oscar contenders like Ma Raineys Black Bottom and David Finchers Mank.

Universal is the other big studio that still supplies movies to theaters, supported by its new PVOD agreements with theaters that allow it to distribute the two biggest films as the Croods sequel. and small films of its independent subsidiary, Focus Features.

That’s good news for Bobbie Bagby Ford, executive vice president of B&B Theaters, the country’s sixth-largest theater chain based in Liberty, Missouri.

Ms Bagby Ford has said that before the pandemic, her company would not have agreed to Warners’ plan to release Wonder Woman 1984 “in theaters and on HBO Max at the same time. Now, however, any opportunity to show a movie that could doing real business would be a relief for a company avoiding bankruptcy.

Our Midwestern moviegoers are very happy to return, and they’ve been asking questions about Wonder Woman for months, months and months, Ms. Bagby Ford said.

Mr Kilar, chief of WarnerMedias, said in his statement that the pandemic was the main reason for Wonder Woman 1984 to be released in theaters and streaming. But he also noted how the move put control of how the film is viewed firmly in the hands of audiences.

Just over four million fans in the United States enjoyed the first Wonder Woman movie on the day it opened in 2017, Mr. Kilar wrote. Is it possible that this Christmas will happen again with Wonder Woman 1984 between theaters and HBO Max? We’re excited to find out, doing everything in our power to bring the power of choice to fans.

If it works, its unlikely things will ever be the same.

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