The week’s big news from WarnerMedia, that it would be making its entire slate of 2021 Warner Bros. films available in…
Provocative angle by Jim Maiella on Warner’s “Whoa” move to take their entire theatrical slate to streaming in 2021:
It’s impossible to predict in this moment what the ultimate impact of this clearly fan-focused (and pandemic-driven) action will be, but it reminded me of an old Chuck Dolan story that used to get told around Cablevision. In the late 1970s, Dolan wanted to put the games of local professional sports teams on his newly built cable systems, but the team owners were afraid that if the games were on television, fans wouldn’t actually come see them in person. Chuck’s response was that not only would they continue to come, the increased exposure and visibility on television would make the games even more popular and valuable as live events, and he offered to buy up all the seats that went unsold as a result of his cable exhibition to get the deals done. In the end, he never had to.
At a high level, I think I agree with this take and sentiment. While this looks a lot like a final nail in a proverbial coffin for movie theaters, it’s entirely possible and perhaps even likely that there’s a real flipside here. And that may well be a “rising tide lifts all boats” situation, as Maiella talks about above. An expansion of the market, as it were.
BUT, I don’t think it’s going to be for the same reason as it was with sports, or with the same trajectory. There is an element of a live performance in sports that television can’t replicate. The same is obviously not true with movie in a theater (it would be more true if we were talking about a play or concert, I believe) but as Maiella notes, there’s something to the communal experience — perhaps especially in a (fingers-crossed) post-COVID world — that doesn’t translate into the home.
There is just no way the movie theater experience is going to be the same post-COVID. That both is and is not theaters’ fault, in my estimation. Obviously, they got absolutely screwed by a pandemic where you cannot cluster together for periods of time indoors. At the same time, they didn’t do themselves any favors by continually making the experience of seeing a movie in a theater worse (including, of course, more expensive) over time. The perfect storm hit, but the town was also not protected at all.
I’m working on a longer post about this — and this itself is almost 500 words! — but wanted to highlight Maiella’s thought-provoking prompt first.