In a significant shift, HBO Max subscribers might have to wait longer than expected to stream some Warner Bros. movies
- Release dates for Warner Bros. movies on HBO Max will be determined on a movie-by-movie basis.
- The movies previously became available to stream after 45 days in theaters.
If you're an HBO Max subscriber and don't want to go to a theater to see a Warner Bros. movie, you might have to wait a bit longer than expected to stream it.
A Max spokesperson confirmed to Insider that the timing of releases of Warner Bros. movies on the service will be determined on a movie-by-movie basis, in another apparent strategy shift.
"Elvis," the next WB movie expected to make its way to Max, was presumed to debut on the platform next Monday, August 15 — 45 days after it premiered in theaters. But the spokesperson said that a Max launch date for the movie has yet to be announced.
The move follows the WarnerMedia-Discovery merger and formation of the new company Warner Bros. Discovery earlier this year, putting Max and the Warner Bros. film studio under the same umbrella as the Discovery+ streaming service, cable networks like Animal Planet, and more.
Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav hinted at the shift during the company's earnings call last week. He reiterated his commitment to movie theaters, saying that an exclusive theatrical release drives word-of-mouth for a movie's eventual launch on other platforms.
Zaslav said that streaming will be a "key part" of the company's strategy, but that it doesn't believe in collapsing theatrical windows and releasing a movie on all platforms at once.
How this differs from HBO Max's previous movie strategy
Zaslav's vision for Warner Bros. Discovery is a complete shift from former WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar's strategy. Under Kilar, every Warner Bros. movie in 2021 was released simultaneously on Max and in theaters.
In 2022, the movies were given a 45-day exclusive theatrical release, after which they would premiere on HBO Max. That was still a much shorter window than before the pandemic, in which movies would typically play in theaters for 75 days to 90 days before becoming available online.
But that seems to be a thing of the past, as the company appears to be embracing a more traditional movie rollout: theaters first, then digital-rental platforms and home entertainment, and then direct-to-consumer streaming services.
"Elvis," for instance, is currently available to purchase on rental platforms like Prime Video and iTunes for $20. It's still chugging along in theaters, too. And it's unclear if it will be available on Max next week as expected.
Granted, since the company is basing decisions on a movie-by-movie basis, some movies could have a shorter window than expected if they aren't performing well in theaters.
But all signs point to WB movies being in theaters as long as possible.
Why Warner Bros. Discovery is remaining loyal to movie theaters
Zaslav, the Warner Bros. Discovery CEO, has made it a priority to repair the relationship between Warner Bros. and movie theaters, which were strained by the simultaneous-release strategy of 2021. But industry analysts and even theatrical leaders admit that most movies make the bulk of their money within their first few weekends in theaters.
Personally, I missed "Elvis" in theaters and was anticipating being able to watch it next week on Max. I'm not going to pay $20 to rent it when I already pay $15 per month for a Max subscription. So I'll wait.
That's the scenario Max subscribers could find themselves in with this and other movies.
Yes, "Elvis" is still showing strong legs in theaters, so the company might see an advantage in prolonging its Max debut (again, it hasn't announced a decision either way, but it's coming down to the wire).
And basing decisions on a movie-by-movie basis doesn't box the company into a corner if it has a blockbuster like Paramount's "Top Gun: Maverick" on its hands, which has shown no signs of slowing down at the box office over two months since its premiere.
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