AT&T CEO John Stankey responded to a number of Hollywood celebrities’ reaction to Warner Bros. deciding to release films on HBO Max and in theaters simultaneously.
WarnerMedia Studios and Networks CEO Ann Sarnoff made the announcement stating, “No one wants films back on the big screen more than we do.”
She continued, “We know new content is the lifeblood of theatrical exhibition, but we have to balance this with the reality that most theaters in the U.S. will likely operate at reduced capacity throughout 2021.”
“With this unique one-year plan, we can support our partners in exhibition with a steady pipeline of world-class films, while also giving moviegoers who may not have access to theaters or aren’t quite ready to go back to the movies the chance to see our amazing 2021 films. We see it as a win-win for film lovers and exhibitors, and we’re extremely grateful to our filmmaking partners for working with us on this innovative response to these circumstances,” Sarnoff concluded.
WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar added, “After considering all available options and the projected state of moviegoing throughout 2021, we came to the conclusion that this was the best way for WarnerMedia’s motion picture business to navigate the next 12 months.”
“More importantly, we are planning to bring consumers 17 remarkable movies throughout the year, giving them the choice and the power to decide how they want to enjoy these films,” he continued.
He concluded, “Our content is extremely valuable, unless it’s sitting on a shelf not being seen by anyone. We believe this approach serves our fans, supports exhibitors and filmmakers, and enhances the HBO Max experience, creating value for all.”
Warner Bros. Pictures Group chairman Toby Emmerich also stated, “This hybrid exhibition model enables us to best support our films, creative partners and moviegoing in general throughout 2021. We have a fantastic, wide-ranging slate of titles from talented and visionary filmmakers next year, and we’re excited to be able get these movies in front of audiences around the world.”
“And, as always, we’ll support all of our releases with innovative and robust marketing campaigns for their theatrical debuts, while highlighting this unique opportunity to see our films domestically via HBO Max as well,” he said.
Films that will arrive in theaters and on HBO Max simultaneously are Wonder Woman 1984, Dune, In The Heights, The Suicide Squad, Judas and the Black Messiah, Tom & Jerry, Godzilla vs. Kong, The Many Saints of Newark, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, Malignant, Those Who Wish Me Dead, King Richard, Space Jam: A New Legacy, Reminiscence, The Little Things, Mortal Kombat, and The Matrix 4.
In response to this announcement, The Dark Knight trilogy director Christopher Nolan responded to the new stating, “Some of our industry’s biggest filmmakers and most important movie stars went to bed the night before thinking they were working for the greatest movie studio and woke up to find out they were working for the worst streaming service.”
He continued, “Warner Bros. had an incredible machine for getting a filmmaker’s work out everywhere, both in theaters and in the home, and they are dismantling it as we speak. They don’t even understand what they’re losing.”
“Their decision makes no economic sense, and even the most casual Wall Street investor can see the difference between disruption and dysfunction,” Nolan added.
The Hollywood Reporter (THR) would also indicate that much of Hollywood was outraged by the decision. They quoted a top talent agent who stated, “Warners has made a grave mistake. Never have this many people been this upset with one entity.”
Another agent stated, “Warners was the quintessentially talent-friendly, filmmaker-friendly studio. Now Warners isn’t the first place, second place or third place you want to go.”
THR would go on to report that many of the individuals involved with these films that will go to HBO Max the same day as theaters are not happy. They include The Suicide Squad director James Gunn, Dune director Denis Villeneuve, and In the Heights director John M. Chu.
Theaters would also express their displeasure with the announcement.
AMC Theaters boss Adam Aron stated, ““These coronavirus-impacted times are uncharted waters for all of us, which is why AMC signed on to an HBO Max exception to customary practices for one film only, Wonder Woman 1984, being released by Warner Brothers at Christmas when the pandemic appears that it will be at its height.”
He added, “However, Warner now hopes to do this for all their 2021 theatrical movies, despite the likelihood that with vaccines right around the corner the theatre business is expected to recover.”
Aron went on to state, “Clearly, Warner Media intends to sacrifice a considerable portion of the profitability of its movie studio division, and that of its production partners and filmmakers, to subsidize its HBO Max start up.”
He then declared, “As for AMC, we will do all in our power to ensure that Warner does not do so at our expense. We will aggressively pursue economic terms that preserve our business.”
“We have already commenced an immediate and urgent dialogue with the leadership of Warner on this subject,” Aron continued.
He concluded stating, “As this issue gets sorted out, we are nonetheless encouraged that vaccines protecting society at large against the coronavirus are very much at hand. So, it is our expectation that moviegoers soon will be able once again to delight in coming to our theatres without any worry — viewing the world’s best movies safely in our big seats, with our big sound and on our big screens.”
Legendary Entertainment is also rumored to pursue Warner Bros legally. Deadline’s Mike Fleming Jr. reported, “I’m hearing that Legendary Entertainment either has or will send legal letters to Warner Bros as soon as today, challenging the decision to put the Denis Villenueve-directed Dune into the HBO Max deal, and maybe Godzilla vs Kong as well.”
Fleming Jr. also claimed, “I’ve spoken to numerous deal-makers with skin in the game here, and none were happy. They understood Warner Bros was in a tough spot; movies on a shelf accumulating interest costs (though interest is low right now), and the likelihood of half a year or more of the kind of paltry attendance that hobbled the studio’s Christopher Nolan film Tenet, before the theatrical market comes back with a glut of product.”
Now, AT&T CEO John Stankey is responding to the detractors of Warner Bros. decision to release their films both on HBO Max and in theaters simultaneously.
While attending the UBS Global TMT Conference, Stankey called the decision a “win-win-win.”
He then responded to a question regarding critics of the decision. He stated, “We’re all participants in a market that serves customers. The longer-term impacts are going to be dictated by what consumers wish to do.”
He went on to say, “Customers have a tremendous amount of choice as to how they choose to engage with content. If we just simply sit here and say, ‘This is about whether or not people go to movie theaters,’ I think we’re missing the broader point.”
“Today, even before WarnerMedia made this decision, customers could go watch great, two-hour content on a variety of competitive services … some of them very significant releases. Customers are going to drive what happens in a market, ultimately,” he added.
What do you make of Stankey’s response to the critics? What do you make of Warner Bros. decision to release films both theatrically and on HBO Max simultaneously? What do you make of the reaction to this decision?