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WarnerMedia to Revise Streaming vs. Movie Theater Strategy in 2022 - What That Means for HBO Max

Ben Bowman

When WarnerMedia announced that its entire slate of films would debut its full slate of 2021 films in theaters and on HBO Max on the same day, it sent shockwaves through the entertainment industry. And early returns seem to suggest it’s working well.

“Wonder Woman 1984” drove a large number of new subscribers.

“Zack Snyder's Justice League” was a viral sensation.

“Godzilla vs. Kong” performed well for the streaming platform and provided much-needed muscle at the box office.

So what will the future hold? WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar spoke to the Recode Media podcast and hinted that 2022 will see the company splitting its film slate into different categories.

“You’ll see two types of movies. There’s certainly going to be the epic and the big motion pictures that will go to theaters, for sure. And they’ll go to theaters first,” Kilar said. “But there’s also going to be a number of movies that we proudly produce at Warner Brothers that go to HBO Max, on the first day as well. I think it’s very fair to say that a big DC movie, (like) 'The Batman,' for example… would go exclusively to theaters first and then go to somewhere like an HBO Max after it’s in theaters.”

When the initial announcement of the day-and-date strategy came down, many creators were furious. Christopher Nolan blasted HBO Max as the “worst streaming service.” Directors bristled as their big screen adventures were saddled with the “direct-to-video” stigma. Kilar expresses some regret about how the announcement was received, but claims he had over 700 conversations with people in the industry to explain the decision personally.

“Change is hard,” Kilar said. “And people don’t like change in many cases and surprises are also hard for people. And so these are all careful needles that we’re trying to thread and continue to try to thread and I’m incredibly happy with where we’re at today. But there’s no doubt that it was bumpy back in early December of last year.”

Still, you can imagine there will be tensions as filmmakers angle for the prestige of a theater-only release, something Kilar seems to hint will be reserved only for big-budget adventures.

HBO Max also faces the threat of other studios pulling their films from the service, as NBCUniversal is reportedly considering. Kilar’s strategy is to follow the Netflix model.

“When you think about it over the next decade, you should expect more of the same in terms of what we’ve been doing in the last two years, which is aggressively investing in our own content, where we own it, and we own it forever. And that includes motion pictures, and that also includes series and documentaries and documentary series,” Kilar said. “I suspect we’ll be producing a lot more motion pictures going forward than we ever have, historically, at Warner Brothers.”

You can listen to the full interview here.

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