IS STREAMING REALLY ARE FUTURE, AND IS IT THE ONLY FUTURE WE’VE GOT LET?
If you’re like me, you’re kind of caught at a crossroads right now with streaming vs. movie theaters. On the one hand, we love going to the movies. It’s an incredibly joyful and relaxing yet also thrilling experience. On the other hand, we also love when top-level content comes straight to our doorstep in the form of streaming. When something you would pay to see in theaters comes directly to your TV set for free (if you’re a subscriber,) it’s hard to turn that down. And that’s okay. For as long as streaming has existed now, we didn’t really have to choose between the two. One didn’t cancel out or even really have much impact on the other. But now, for the first time, is it starting to look like things have most definitely changed.
Going to the movies as we know it, may very well never be the same. And that’s a pretty terrible thing. It’s a two-punch combo that caused all of this. The first, of course was Covid-19. The second is a decision by Warner Brothers studios. Now before this goes any further, let me just say that I am not condemning WBs decision. In fact, in many ways I like it. And we’ll get into what that decision was in just a moment. But for now, I do have to admit that despite personally liking it, there might be some serious ramifications. Let’s look at all of this one step at a time.
The first step was Covid 19. The Pandemic. Theaters shut down. Considering that the economy also shut down and that in many ways the world kind of shut down for about two months, the theaters thing wasn’t really such a big deal. And even when things started returning to normal, like restaurants and stores reopening, having the theaters closed still seemed like it would be okay. The pandemic occupied almost all of the year 2020 (it began in March, just months shy of the start of the year.) Despite this great length of time, things still looked promising for the future. Studios just kept talking about delaying their movies a few months at a time. No big deal. Push it back a little. Set a new date. When that date arrives and things are still bad, just put out another date. But Warner Brothers had a different idea.
Warner Brothers is the studio that put out Tenet. Now Tenet was the only major studio movie released into theaters during the pandemic. It was a test. An experiment. Would audiences go? And there were lots of factors to consider, like how the movie was not being released in theaters in any major US cities. Which means it had a challenging path to navigate. Well, the results came in and the movie did not do well. It did fine overseas, but domestically, it underperformed. So much so that Warner Brothers decided not to release anymore of their movies in theaters. If Tenet had worked, then they would have most definitely released others, including Wonder Woman.
So now for the big Warner Brothers decision… every one of their new releases for the next year will debut on HBO MAX their subscriber streaming service. The movies will also play in theaters, but who are we kidding? Nobody is going into theaters to see these, especially when they are streaming. And all of a sudden we’ve got a situation. Lots of big movies, from Wonder Woman to The Suicide Squad (the James Gunn directed sequel,) to Dune to Matrix 4 to Godzilla Vs Kong. All debuting on HBO Max.
People in the industry are unhappy about this. I’m talking about the people who make the movies. The writers, directors, actors, and everybody else. But their unhappy for all the wrong reasons. They’re unhappy because they won’t be getting paid on the back end. You see all of these people who are considered “talent,” have something written in their contracts called a back-end deal. It means that if the movie over performs and crosses a certain number at the box office (let’s say three hundred million,) they get a bonus. But now with the movies going straight to streaming, all of those back end deals are out the window. It’s the wrong reason to be upset. Money. Granted everything is about money, but this seems kind of selfish.
To counter that point, however, it should be noted that some actors intentionally took pay cuts knowing that they would get a back end deal. And now they’re not. Even still, there are more important reasons to be upset (and Warner Brothers probably should cut a desk with those actors who took pay cuts, like the actors in Dune, to try to make them feel a little better.) But the bigger picture here is that if this becomes a bigger trend than just Warner Brothers, (like say, if Disney starts doing the same thing,) people probably won’t be going back to movie theaters again. A year is quite a long time to get used to something. And a year of having everything go straight to one’s home, could definitely start feeling like the new normal.
That’s what AMC theaters, and probably all theater chains for that matter, are upset about right now. The theater chains are struggling. Big time. Think about it, they haven’t even been opened in big cities in almost a year. And the ones that are opened probably don’t have the most crowded showings. It’s a mess. And all they really have now is hope. They’re counting on the vaccine to start working sooner rather than later, and for people to start coming back to the movies. Only this new move by Warner Brothers declares that as far as WB is concerned, that won’t happen for another year. WB is basically declaring that 2021 will be just like 2020, the year everyone wants to try to move past and forget.
And so that’s where we are right now. Will movie theaters reopen again over a year from now and still be the same? Who knows. My guess is they will. Going to the movies is just too great of an experience to turn down, and give up on. But what will things look like when they do? And will it ever really have the same draw that it once did? I guess we’ll have to just edit and see.