What is the future of Hollywood

Hollywood and streaming : The cinema will remain irreplaceable in the future

When Warner Bros. brought “Tenet” to the cinema in the summer, it was also meant as a signal of hope to the film industry. Christopher Nolan's science fiction spectacle was supposed to bring the audience back to the screens in the middle of the pandemic (the American president still called Covid-19 a "flu"). The traditional studio wanted to set a good example after Universal had previously offered “Trolls World Tour” directly as “Video-on-Demand” (VoD) in a much-criticized solo effort.

That was just four months ago, and Hollywood has been perplexed ever since. In some US metropolises "Tenet" is still not shown in the cinema, the blockbuster only grossed 58 million dollars on the domestic market. For comparison: Nolan's most successful film “The Dark Knight Rises” had a turnover of 250 million dollars on the opening weekend alone in 2012. Warner miscalculated.

The decision, announced by Warner CEO Ann Sarnoff on Thursday, to bring all films scheduled for 2021 into cinemas at the same time (if they are open) and to offer them on its own streaming platform HBO Max, was hardly surprising. The paradigm shift had long since begun. In November Warner had already announced this procedure with the repeatedly postponed “Wonder Woman 1984”, which will be published in a “day-and-date release” at Christmas.

The films affected for 2021 include Denis Villeneuve's remake of “Dune”, the sequels “Matrix 4” and “Godzilla vs. Kong”, the “Sopranos” prequel “The Many Saints of Newark”, but also prestigious arthouse films Productions like the Black Panther drama “Judas and the Black Messiah” or the Broadway hit “In the Heights”. This means that the previously sacrosanct industry regulation of a time window between the cinema release and DVD / VoD release, a point of contention between distributors and cinema operators, has been canceled for the time being. According to Sarnoff, this experiment should take a year.

Shock waves hit Wall Street

The news caused shock waves in the cinema industry that could be felt as far as Wall Street. However, the development was foreseeable. As early as September, Disney brought its streaming service Disney + into position when the studio released the real-life version of “Mulan” without prior theatrical release at a hefty surcharge. On the first weekend, Disney + subscription numbers skyrocketed 68 percent.

The term "Streaming War" was used again and again when it came to competition from Hollywood and Netflix. In the meantime, however, the big studios are attacking their traditional core business, the movie theaters. Streaming portals are becoming indispensable in the long term for media companies such as Warner, Disney or Comcast (Universal), who also produce films “on the side”.

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At the moment it is unclear whether “Wonder Woman 1984” will even be shown in Germany. The cinemas are closed for Christmas, HBO Max won't start until next year; there are contracts between Warner Media and Sky, but so far only apply to HBO productions. When asked, Warner Germany only said that they would continue to try to show “Wonder Woman 1984” in the cinema.

Series are more important for streaming subscriptions

The studios will continue to use the pandemic to make their streaming platforms more attractive, with exclusive content. Disney also showed that series are more important than films. In terms of subscription numbers, the Star Wars offshoot "The Mandalorian" was many times more successful than "Mulan". In this respect, the reactions to the Warner decision are a little alarmist; on the contrary, the industry should draw new conclusions from the experiment.

The dissolution of the “release window” represents just another stage in cultural change, not the end of the cinema. Movie theaters are not going to go away (some for sure), if only because the studios need the huge box office revenues. And because there are enough people who prefer the cinema experience to a streaming evening.

Because that's a fact too: the studios underestimate their audience. A generation is growing up in whose understanding films and series, cinemas and streaming are not mutually exclusive. Portals such as Disney + and HBO Max, on the other hand, could appeal to an audience that the cinemas can no longer reach with their offers anyway. What is fairly certain, however, is that the pandemic will accelerate developments that were inevitable.

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