Even after Dune's strong showing at the box office and on VOD for HBO Max, Warner Bros. has announced that in 2022 it will step away from simultaneously releasing movies on its app and in theaters, and instead have a 45-day window where titles are theater-exclusive before they move to the app.
HBO Max will have 10 titles that don't hit theaters and premiere exclusively on its platform as well.
The stunning pandemic initiative called "Project Popcorn," in which WB took all its 2021 titles and put them on HBO Max while they also debuted in theaters, had lasting ripple effects.Filmmakers pushed back against WB's initial strategy of day-and-date for 2021, but the company saw a dramatic increase in subscribers to their app as a result.
HBO Max has 69.4 million subscribers globally. That’s up from 57 million worldwide at the end of September 2020.
Still, there is the general feeling that a lot of movies would have made even more money
Warner Bros.' plan to abandon releasing online as well in theaters makes sense. In 2022, they're going to schedule mostly event movies. Superhero titles like The Batman will lead the way, and Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore as well as the Baz Lurhman Elvis biopic will help round out the year.
It's hard to predict what the 2022 box office will look like, but you would have to imagine that it provides a bounce back. Studios all over have been holding their biggest titles for now. But we didn't really learn much from 2021. Titles released on HBO did make less money at the box office, but we don't really know how much that was hampered by the pandemic. We went through periods where theaters were not even allowed to sell out theaters. It looks as if 2021 will be an outlier year and companies will have to bank on 2022 to reveal a bit more.
Still, I wonder what other studios learned from this experiment, watching from the outside. In the end, WB is still going to have to make titles that service both theatrical and its app. It was easier to do both, but did it make them enough money to keep shareholders happy? Could they shift movies that are tracking poorly to the app even faster than anticipated? Will others do that to keep up with growing apps in the industry? Time will tell.
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