Much of what has befallen the movie-theater business is about secular change related to technology. But the industry has done itself no favors by offering terrible customer service, ever-higher prices and precious little in the way of innovation, even as home theater experiences have drastically improved.
While several of Mr. Kilar’s underlings tried not to answer the question of whether the Warner 2021 movie-slate move was temporary or permanent — one called it a “unique, one-year plan,” and the always shifty term “hybrid model” was tossed around — it’s just a feint to protect a lie that Hollywood has told itself for far too long. Which is that it can no longer avoid the wrenching changes to its business fueled by the rise of digital technologies and changing consumer practices. These have been clear to anyone who has watched the relentless and impressive march of Netflix.
HBO Max, which debuted in May, is hardly a competitor to the persistently innovative Netflix, which has 200 million monthly subscribers on its global service, with 73 million in the United States. And throughout the pandemic, Netflix — because it has been perfecting its original-content machine for years — has been churning out the hits, including “Tiger King,” “The Queen’s Gambit” and an even spicier fourth season of “The Crown.” Netflix’s level of excellence has demanded that others follow it.
Warner is not the only one. There have been increasingly aggressive efforts to put streaming in the lead by the Walt Disney Company, which took the well-timed plunge with its Disney+ service earlier this year. Disney just reported an impressive 73.7 million subscriber tally, helped by its creative “Mandalorian” franchise. And it is making its live-action remake of “Mulan” available to subscribers after having experimented by charging $30 extra to watch it on the service.
By making these dramatic shifts, Disney and Warner may be giving up hundreds of millions in box office revenue from theaters, of course, but it’s pain that is necessary, even if it means complaints from those owners.
And how, with the howling. Stocks of theater chains plummeted even further after the Warner news, which was apparently not signaled ahead of time to the chains, and after Warner and the theaters had tried to put a happy face on the initial “Wonder Woman 1984” news.
“Clearly, WarnerMedia 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,” AMC Entertainment’s Adam Aron said in an email to The New York Times. “As for AMC, we will do all in our power to ensure that Warner does not do so at our expense. We have already commenced an immediate and urgent dialogue with the leadership of Warner on this subject.”