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IMAX CEO: HBO Max ‘Basically Asking for Piracy’

Aubrey Meister

IMAX CEO Rich Gelfond says movie studios are playing with fire if they continue to release films on streaming platforms on the same day they hit theaters.

Gelfond believes that HBO Max is “basically asking for piracy” for upcoming releases, such as The Matrix Resurrections. “The audience is people who love to explore the internet,” he said in an interview with the new website, Puck. This is an issue industry executives have talked about in the past.

Gelfond thinks that HBO Max will have to pay the price of making some titles available to stream. “Some of their movies, like Dune and Matrix Resurrections, would do much better with an exclusive theatrical run,” he said. “There’s no question in my mind, they’re not going to achieve their potential.”

Before WarnerMedia decided to put its theatrical releases on HBO Max, Gelfond consulted with senior executives. He suggested adding some titles to HBO Max for a short amount of time. HBO Max took a different approach. “They asked me, ‘What if we did it for a longer period of time?’ And I said that was starting a nuclear war with exhibition. And if they unilaterally tried to disrupt the business in that way, it was going to come back to bite them. And, as you know, it did,” he said.

Unlike WarnerMedia, Disney introduced Premier Access, giving Disney+ subscribers access to new films the same day they were released in theaters for an extra $29.99. HBO Max also allowed subscribers to stream new theatrical releases at no additional charge. The success of Disney’s Premier Access strategy varied by the movie. Black Widow was a major hit on Disney+. However, movie theaters saw a 67% drop in box office revenue in the second week and placed the blame on Disney's Premier Access strategy.

For its part, Disney has returned to a more traditional strategy and is giving its movies an exclusive 30-to-45-day theatrical run for the remainder of 2021. After that, they will be available to stream on Disney+ at no additional cost.

Gelfond appears to be optimistic about theatrical releases in a post-pandemic world. Disney’s return to a more traditional theatrical release strategy should work to theaters’ benefit as well.

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