One of the biggest stories of last year, perhaps even the biggest story when it comes to the long-term effect on the film industry, is the move by WarnerMedia to shift its 2021 WB film slate to HBO Max. It’s a move that raised a lot of eyebrows and caused a lot of frustration with those in the industry. But according to the AT&T CEO John Stankey, who runs the parent company of WarnerMedia, this is all going better than expected.
Speaking on a recent earnings call (via Variety), Stankey talked about the WB/HBO Max decision and its effect on the bottom line. When discussing the controversial plan to release Warner Bros’ 2021 film slate on HBO Max the same day as in theaters, Stankey dubbed the decision “a bold and aggressive swing.” And while he probably meant that in the complimentary sense, it would appear that reaction to the news from many filmmakers agrees with it being bold and aggressive, but in a way that hurts the industry and the future of the medium.
As you probably have seen, folks such as Christopher Nolan have heavily criticized WarnerMedia for not just the decision to release the films day-and-date on streaming but mainly for not discussing the choice with filmmakers, many of which didn’t find out until the news broke. And while the AT&T CEO understands that could have been done differently, he believes that, ultimately, everyone will be taken care of.
“There are things on the margin we’d do a little bit differently but at the end of the day we will make sure people are being fairly compensated and treated well,” Stankey said.
In explaining the reasons for the move, Stankey cited the fact that studios keep pushing the release dates for films in theaters and are creating a logjam of new releases that will flood the market. Combined with the fact that he doesn’t foresee a “magical” reaction from consumers that will have them all rushing back to the cinemas in full force, the CEO believes the correct course of action is to not hold on to completed films for longer than necessary.
“We felt like we had a little bit of a spoiling asset that needed to be used more effectively,” Stankey said about the WB film slate.
As for the early numbers for how this strategy might have served WarnerMedia, the earnings report also mentioned that the total number of “activated” HBO Max subscribers jumped from 8.6 million at the beginning of the fourth quarter to 17.7 million by the end of 2020. Yes, that’s doubled. Largely, this can be credited to the deal with Roku that put the HBO Max service in millions of more homes and also the fact that WB released “Wonder Woman 1984” on the service on Christmas.
For clarification, the reason you have to look at “activated” subscribers is because the total number of regular “subscribers” also includes people who pay for regular HBO and have access to the HBO Max app but have yet to download it and use it. “Activated” subscribers are folks that actually subscribe to the service and have used the HBO Max app.
So, at least in the interim, it appears the move has worked out pretty well, as far as growing HBO Max is concerned.