The model of theatrical distribution that we've known for years may well be a thing of the past. Currently, studios are wrestling with the ongoing production shutdown and movie theaters being temporarily closed in the interest of public health. When things do resume, whenever that may be, it's likely not going to be business as usual, according to WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey.
When AT&T merged with Warner Bros., they created a massive media conglomerate called WarnerMedia. Warner Bros. remains one of the biggest movie studios in the business. During a recent quarterly earnings call, John Stankey explained that they are currently rethinking things when it comes to theatrical releases in the future. Here's what Stankey had to say about it.
"We're evaluating our product distribution strategy, relooking at volumes and the required support levels we need in a down economy. We're rethinking our theatrical model and looking for ways to accelerate efforts that are consistent with the rapid changes in consumer behavior."
Streaming services have, as one might expect, seen a huge boom as stay-at-home orders have been in effect. WarnerMedia is launching a new marquee streaming service, HBO Max, next month. That is expected to be a large part of the company's future. Not only that, but several major releases that were intended for theaters, including Trolls World Tour and the upcoming animated Scooby-Doo movie Scoob, are skipping theaters in favor of heading straight to digital.
These decisions may have a lasting effect once movie theaters do reopen. Will people still want to head to crowded movie theaters in the future? Can blockbuster movies make the kind of money at the box office they need to make on the other side of this? These are difficult questions that traditional studios like Warner Bros. will be forced to answer. John Stankey explained that they intend to resume filming once it is safe to do so.
"The studios are dark for now, but as soon as we can resume production, we plan to get back to where we left off for in March with a steady stream of new offerings in the fall and winter. We're also deep into planning how priority operations will return to the workplace as we come out of this... This experience will change many things, including customer behaviors and expectations."
Theatrical distribution isn't likely to disappear entirely. Warner Bros. has rescheduled Wonder Woman 1984 for an August release after its planned June debut had to be delayed. But precisely how those releases are handled in the future, and what types of movies do go to theaters as opposed to streaming, is very much up in the air. Other studios such as Paramount, Universal, Sony and even Disney are surely mulling over these very same questions right now. Unfortunately for them, and for those who cherish the theatrical experience as it exists, there are no easy answers. This news was previously reported by The Wrap.