Warner Bros. movies. are no longer guaranteed to arrive on HBO Max after a 45-day theatrical window: Source
After 48 hours of rumors, speculation, and panic on HBO Max, a clearer picture is beginning to form. fans of hacks may let out that breath they’ve been holding, but moviegoers might want to question their loyalty to the service that has arguably been the #1 go-to streamer for moviegoers for the past couple of years. Despite previously announced plans to send all Warner Bros. 2022 to HBO Max after 45 days in theaters, Decider has been told by a source that the company will now use a “case-by-case” approach to determining when their theatrical release-released movies will land on the streamer.
The big news from the company’s second quarter earnings call on Thursday afternoon was the impending combined HBO Max and Discovery+ streaming service, which is slated to launch in the summer of 2023. But the CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery’s David Zaslav also shed light on what he called a “strategic shift” away from releasing expensive movies live on HBO Max, signaling the end of the “Project Popcorn” era, which found all theatrical films from Warner Bros. simulcast “day and date” on HBO Max in 2021, then streaming after a 45-day theatrical window for the first half of 2022.
The project, which was internally called “Project Popcorn”, was the brainchild of former Warner Media CEO Jason Kilar, and it enraged filmmakers and industry professionals at the time. The public, however, saw it as a blessing, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic dragged on in waves. And for HBO Max, it’s proven to be a much-needed asset in getting the fledgling service off the ground after a difficult and delayed launch in 2020. Subscriptions jumped to 73.8 million subscribers worldwide at the end of 2021, with more than 11 million new subscribers in 2021. alone. (It’s unclear how many subscribers HBO Max has added since then; yesterday’s call reported 92.1 million subscribers to Warner Bros. Discovery’s new merger, which includes both HBO Max and Discovery+.) Analysts left and right were declaring HBO Max the winner of the streaming wars.
With the new year, HBO Max kept the movie momentum going, sending blockbusters like The Batman and Fantastic Beasts: Dumbledore’s Secrets to the streaming service after 45 days in theaters, with promises of thrilling HBO Max original movies like father of the bride and bat girl. This was to continue throughout the 2022 movie slate. But, then, in April, came the merger of Warner Media and Discovery Inc., ending Kilar’s reign. The bat girl the outing was cancelled. Several original HBO Max movies have disappeared from the service (although they are still available to buy and rent on VOD services). The Popcorn project is, it seems, completely finished.
It’s unclear what the company’s home entertainment exit strategy will be. Elvis—which was slated to hit HBO Max next week, according to the 45-day window – will be available to buy and rent on digital platforms at a premium price on August 9, but it won’t be on HBO Max. The decision maker contacted WBD and a source confirmed that Elvis would eventually arrive on HBO Max, but that a release date could not yet be announced. The decision maker was further informed that HBO Max’s release of films in theaters in the future would be determined on a case-by-case basis, rather than within the strict 45-day window.
On Thursday’s earnings call, CEO Zaslav said, “This idea of expensive movies going straight to streaming, we can’t find any economic justification for it. […] We are making a strategic shift. As part of this, we have been in town to talk about our commitment to theatrical exhibition and theatrical showcase. A number of movies will launch with shorter windows. Maybe the studio will follow in the footsteps of Universal, which sends out a few movies like The man from the north at Peacock after 45 days, but keeps big winners from the office like Jurassic World Dominion in theaters and on PVOD for much longer.
Where does that leave the HBO Max movie-going subscribers who came on board in 2020 to watch Godzilla vs. Kong, and stuck around for easy access to recent blockbusters? In March 2022, an HBO Max subscription meant a guarantee you could stream The Batman from your living room, for free, just over a month and a half after its theatrical release. For many, that makes the $14.99/month price worth it. There was also the lure of HBO Max original films, including, this year, Steven Soderbergh’s critically acclaimed new thriller. Kimiand Andy Garcia-directed father of the bride remake.
Now the subscribers who have been waiting Elvis will still find themselves waiting for a period of time yet to be determined. The original HBO Max movies are no longer being made or are being drastically reduced, due to Zaslav’s distaste for direct streaming and the bat girl cancelation. (house partyan upcoming remake starring Jacob Latimore, was also quietly pulled from the WB’s broadcast schedule a few weeks before it was supposed to debut on HBO Max in July.) And the impending combined streaming service with Discovery + doesn’t offer much in the way of movies, unless you pick up Guy Fieri’s feature.
Additionally, Film Twitter is angry after Zaslav’s Powerpoint presentation failed to mention TCM, Criterion and Studio Ghibli, three beloved assets that currently have “hubs” on HBO Max. The future of these brands in the combined HBO/Disco product is still unknown.
That said, there are still plenty of movies currently available in HBO Max’s vast library, including a backlog of classic Turner films, which will no doubt keep many subscribers on board until summer 2023 when the new service will be started. But one thing seems certain: Going forward, HBO Max won’t be the go-to streamer that Project Popcorn subscribers have signed up for.