The streaming wars rage on, and things are very different from this time last year. As the world continues to battle COVID-19, movie studios have to balance two issues. How to make money and how to keep theaters from dying. This brings us to the biggest studios on the planet, The Walt Disney Company, and Warner Media.
Disney+ and HBO Max have completely different approaches when it comes to releasing movies in 2021. In one corner, Disney is waiting to see what films can release in theaters while occasionally releasing one via Premier Access on Disney+. This means in addition to your Disney+ subscription, you have to pay $29.99 to see the upcoming film.
In the other corner, Warner Bros. decided to drop all of their 2021 films on HBO Max at no additional cost to subscribers. Meaning you can watch films like Godzilla vs. Kong, Space Jam: A New Legacy, and Dune from the comfort of your own home for free.
Now, at first glance, the best for the consumer is obviously HBO Max. After all, even if theaters are open, why would I leave my house and pay $15 when I can stay home and watch it for free? Compare that to Disney+ where I have to pay twice as much as a movie ticket.
The Disney+ approach is better for the Walt Disney Company and exhibitors. Disney isn’t using their films to inflate their subscribers. They’re giving consumers a safe option to watch their films but still encourage fans to go to the cinema. Theaters will likely struggle with the HBO Max situation. Again, even if my local theater is open, why would I pay extra? Disney gives the consumer a choice, and in some cases, makes the theater the better option.
If I’m single and want to watch Raya and The Last Dragon, I’d rather go to the theater and pay $15. If I have a family, I’d rather pay the $30 and stay home. A family of four typically pays $60 for a night at the movies, and that’s not counting concessions. For some, the theater is the logical choice, and that’s why exhibitors aren’t fighting Disney over Premier Access. This makes theaters a worthy option and doesn’t remove them from the equation like HBO Max.
“Clearly, Warner Media 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. As for AMC, we will do all in our power to ensure that Warner does not do so at our expense. We will aggressively pursue economic terms that preserve our business.”
– Adam Aron (AMC CEO)
The Premier Access model is not too different from ESPN’s pay-per-view model. You’re paying for ESPN but have to pay extra to watch the big fight. This is something that has been around for years.
I’m not here saying that Disney+ Premier Access will save theaters or that HBO Max will doom them, but I think, in the long run, Disney+ will help them more overall. After a year of watching Warner Bros. films’ for free, will people be willing to pay for them in 2022? Speaking from personal experience, ever since I started working from home last year, it’s been challenging going back into the office. Once we’re conditioned to do something for a year, it’s tough to go back.
At the end of the day, we all want movie theaters to survive, and I truly believe Premier Access is the best option in this new normal. It might not be the most consumer-friendly option, but we have to make sacrifices to keep theaters in business. After all, you can always wait for the movies to come out on Blu-Ray.