Warner Media has been the key newsmaker over the last week in the world of movies and TV on a number of fronts including announcing the May 27 launch for the HBO Max streaming service, but the most controversial bit came from a quote by AT&T COO John Stankey concerning Warner Media “rethinking its theatrical model” that he made during a conference call with investors on Tuesday.
The quote — taken a bit out of context — literally turned the entertainment news industry on its head, prompting every entity from the most respected trades to the loopiest of bloggers to speculate exactly what Stankey meant.
More than a few connected the dots between the statement and Warner’s announcement that the CGI-animated feature “Scoob!” which was scheduled to open in theaters in May would instead go straight to Video On Demand. The film which details how the Scooby Gang first met will be available for digital rental ($20) or purchase ($25) on May 15.
Stankey was addressing the halt of revenue prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic which has not only closed down movie theaters but also stopped production of films and TV shows for the short term.
“The Hollywood Reporter” quoted Stankey saying, “This experience will change many things, including customer behaviors and expectations. We’re evaluating our product distribution strategy, re-looking at volumes and the required support levels we need in a down economy. We’re rethinking our theatrical model and looking for ways to accelerate efforts that are consistent with the rapid changes in consumer behavior from the pandemic. Now our focus is on defining and leveraging the new normal across all of our operations.”
Media speculation about the quote prompted Warner Media CEO Ann Sarnoff to release this statement to “The Hollywood Reporter: “We are committed to — and are excited about — releasing Tenet in theaters this summer or whenever theaters reopen. We remain supportive of the theatrical experience and our exhibition partners, and are confident that our tentpole titles, including “Tenet” and “Wonder Woman 1984,” are exactly the type of films that will have people eager to return to theaters.”
Stankey released his own statement to go on the record for his support of theatrical releases: “Theatrical films have always been a major part of the our ecosystem. I fully expect that as we evaluate our business going forward, we will continue to champion creative work that is worthy of the theatrical experience.”
Warner still has theatrical debut dates for director Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” for July 17 and director Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman 1984” for Aug. 14., showing its intent to provide big-budget films to theaters.
So, why move “Scoob!” to VOD instead of push back the release date?
Easy, the marketing campaign to promote “Scoob!” is already underway, with toys, fast-food tie-ins, commercials and other promotional vehicles already in place. With most theaters expected to still be closed when the film was to debut on May 15, it made sense to have the movie available to watch at the same time the toys and other tie-ins began to be available than to halt the promotions and begin them again at a later date.
Basically, Warner was trying to cut its losses and make whatever it can off the movie that wasn’t tracking very highly to begin with.
Films like “Wonder Woman 1984” and “Tenet” cost too much to make to be sacrificed in such manner, and they have the potential to approach the billion dollar mark at the box office if fans aren’t too fearful to return to theaters this summer.
However, Stankey’s other comments on the conference call made it clear that Warner is concerned about the type of demand and desire consumers will have about going back to theaters this summer.
“The theatrical business is obviously a stressed business right now,” Stankey said. “When theaters are closed, it’s hard to generate revenue. And don’t expect that that’s going to be a snap-back. I think that’s going to be something that we’re going to have to watch the formation of consumer confidence, not just about going to movies, just in general about being back out in public and understanding what’s occurring there.”
How quickly will fans begin to feel safe to go back to movie theaters? I’m not sure we’re going to know the answer to that question until theaters begin to open back up.
HBO Max’s launch
Warner Media also made news this week by announcing its new streaming service HBO Max will be available to subscribers on May 27.
Much like Disney +, HBO Max will pick and choose the best movie and TV offerings in Warner’s massive catalog and allow viewers to pick and choose when and how to watch for $14.99 a month, basically the price of HBO through cable or streaming.
The service will offer everything that HBO NOW offers plus an impressive slate of original shows, favorites like “Friends,” “South Park,” “The Big Bang Theory,” and “Sesame Street” as well as tons of movies, including a curated list of classic films by Turner Classic Movies. One of the new shows will be “The Not-Too-Late Show with Elmo,” that is being written to appeal to kids as well as older family members.
As beloved as the Disney, Marvel, and Star Wars films are on Disney +, some of Warner’s franchises are equally adored, such as the Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, Harry Potter, and Batman franchises.
When you add that film selection to the quality programming that HBO routinely offers, it creates an attractive package.
Return of Looney Tunes
I’m personally excited that classic Warner Bros. Looney Tunes cartoons will be available as well as an updated version. The trailer for the new episodes has me eagerly awaiting March 27. Physically distancing ourselves remains challenging, but having a bevy of Looney Tunes shorts at my fingertips will make it more tolerable.