The HBO Max deal may have accidentally saved Warner Bros.
With the release of Matrix resurrections, Warner Bros. ‘ The HBO Max blockbuster experience is over. The results have been interesting, to say the least.
“Project Popcorn” was, by all accounts, designed by the owners of Warner Bros. AT&T and WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar. The plan was to simultaneously release the company’s blockbuster list in theaters and on HBO Max in order to increase the membership of the streaming platform to help it compete better with other platforms like Disney + or Netflix. The move was hugely controversial and divisive, even against the backdrop of a tumultuous time for Hollywood studios.
The plan was heavily criticized at the time, both by insiders and outsiders. Christopher Nolan described HBO Max as “the worst streaming service.” Denis Villeneuve described the decision as proof of a “total disregard” for the history of the company as a “patrimonial homeland for filmmakers”. Many filmmakers only discovered that their films went straight to streaming with the public announcement. The more angry voices have called the company “old brothers”.
It seems safe to admit that the deal did not work out exactly as AT&T intended. It didn’t quite turn HBO Max into a streaming powerhouse. While the move undoubtedly contributed to the combined growth of 12.5 million HBO and HBO Max subscribers in 2021, it is still a significantly slower increase than the 60% growth in Disney subscribers. + between November 2020 and November 2021, or Netflix’s growth of 195 million subscribers in the third quarter. 2020 to 214 million subscribers in Q3 2021.
Many films have underperformed in theaters, including highly rated films like The suicide squad and king richard. Many have also struggled to gain traction on HBO Max. that of James Wan Smart failed to find an audience in theaters and streaming. Releasing easily ripped versions of films straddling theatrical releases may not be the best strategy. It failed at the box office, but sharp rips of Matrix resurrections are more popular on torrent sites than shaky recordings of Spider-Man: No Path Home.
However, while acknowledging these disappointments, the streaming deal with HBO has had some interesting consequences. While “Project Popcorn” may not have accomplished what AT&T and the studio wanted it to do commercially, there were several unintended benefits that flowed from the decision. Against all odds, this spectacularly risky bet could have saved Warner Bros. of himself.
Very immediately, committing to the day-and-date release model meant that Warner Bros. was committed to putting films in theaters, no matter what. As studios like Universal and Disney pushed their impending theatrical releases like F9 and Black Widow returning in June and July, Warner Bros. come out like Godzilla vs. Kong and Mortal combat were screened in theaters in March and April. This meant theaters had great movies to show as audiences finally returned.
As other studios have strategically retained their releases to maximize the potential box office, Godzilla vs. Kong provided cinemas with an unexpected lifeline. Theaters need a constant turnover of new releases to attract audiences, especially at a time like this. As of mid-April 2021, four of the top five films at the domestic box office since the start of the pandemic were Warner Bros. films. Godzilla vs. Kong remained at the top of the box office for four weeks and in the top 10 for nine weeks.
However, this experience has deeper long-term implications. If nothing else, it could serve as an uplifting tale. This perhaps sets limits on how drastically companies like AT&T might attempt to reshape the Hollywood landscape. After all, it’s a kind of autopsy; Even as the pandemic rages on, it looks like this streaming experience is over. In August, Warner Bros. has committed to an exclusive 45-day theatrical window for 2022 releases as The batman.
Evidence suggests that these types of productions are not sustainable as streaming versions. Hollywood is learning it. In May, AT&T parted ways with Warner Bros. with Jason Kilar announcing his departure. It seemed like a concession that AT&T planned vertical integration – where the company would own the studio making the films, the streaming service showing the films, and the internet infrastructure supporting the streaming service was not viable.
The failed experiment also provides additional cover for box office disappointments. The box office prognosis is a dark art at the best of times, but it seems especially futile in a time of an unprecedented global pandemic. While it can be fun to blame the ‘millennial’ audience, it’s not too hard to see why older audiences don’t turn to fares traditionally aimed at adults like king richard Where West Side Story, while younger audiences show up for the Marvel Studios films.
In a situation where going to the movies presents a risk of potential infection, it is understandable that audiences do not turn to the movies available for free online. At a time when the growth of streaming services has stalled in the United States and most households are already maxed out on streaming subscriptions, is it any wonder that this streaming revolution has led to a corresponding increase in movie piracy? In some ways, it’s a miracle these movies made any money.
Warner Bros. seems to make some concession to this reality. Notably, the year following “Project Popcorn” saw the studio make a conscious and concerted effort to retain talent following damage to creative relationships. Despite a somewhat modest box office performance, earning less than Marvel’s “disappointment” Eternals, Warner Bros. announced that Denis Villeneuve will direct a sequel to Dune.
In recent years, Warner Bros. has shaken up its reputation as a pro-creative studio, as evidenced by the release of Joss Whedon. Justice League. In June 2017, reports suggested that Warner wanted to “avoid the authors of authors who want the final cut.” However, over the past year or so, the CEO of Warner Bros. Studios and Networks, Ann Sarnoff, emphasized the renewed importance of the studio’s long-term relationships with its core creative talents.
Even after the box office underperformance of The Many Saints of Newark, Sarnoff announced that Warner Bros. would develop other projects with David Chase. Despite reports (apparently confirmed by producer James McTeigue) that Warner Bros. planned to go ahead with the Matrix franchise without her in October 2017, Sarnoff insisted in October 2021 that the studio was eager to work with director Lana Washowski, boasting, “Every time Lana wants to make a movie, we’re all in it.”
The long term effects of “Project Popcorn” will likely take years, if not decades, to be properly assessed. However, the first answer is promising. The project did not succeed as its architects had hoped, but it did keep cinemas afloat through a troubled year, demonstrated the limits of the vertical integration of these huge multimedia conglomerates in Hollywood, covered films. disappointing box office results and bring back Warner Bros. to his creative talent.
At the very least, this remains a fascinating creative test case. In a strange and completely unexpected way, the miscalculations of “Project Popcorn” could pave the way for a healthier future for Warner Bros. and Hollywood as a whole.