On Thursday, AT&T’s WarnerMedia announced that it will simultaneously release all 17 of its blockbuster films in 2021, including Matrix 4 and Space Jam 2, on HBO Max on the same day they come out in theaters. AMC, the largest theater chain in America, appears to have been blindsided by the news — or is at least profoundly unhappy with it.
“Clearly, WarnerMedia intends to sacrifice a considerable portion of the profitability of its movie studio division — and that of its production partners and filmmakers — to subsidize its HBO Max start-up,” AMC CEO Adam Aron told the New York Times in a statement. “As for AMC, we will do all in our power to ensure that Warner does not do so at our expense. We have already commenced an immediate and urgent dialogue with the leadership of Warner on this subject.”
The nuances of this are a little bit ironic since it was AMC which first got the ball rolling in this direction. Earlier this year, AMC announced a deal with NBCUniversal that shortened the exclusive theatrical window for its films from 90 days to just 17. Other theater operators were not happy when AMC made this decision — and now AMC is unhappy with the natural evolution of it, the shortening of the window even further from 17 days to zero.
The movie industry has been heading this way for awhile, and theaters are going to have to differentiate themselves by highlighting the movie theater amenities that cannot be replicated at home: enormous screens with crystal clear picture, immersive sound, 3D, and the communal experience. The overall theater experience makes paying extra money and leaving the house worth it. I believe that many theaters will figure this out, but there’s also inevitably going to be some painful restructuring along the way.