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Wonder Woman 1984 and the future of how we’ll watch movies

The big shift that’s started with one movie..

So on Christmas Day I was able to watch the brand new Wonder Woman movie on the same date it was released in the USA and UK. Chances are some of you don’t see this as impressive, because Sterkinekor has been playing it for about a week now and you might have watched it at the cinema. Expect I didn’t Watch Wonder Woman 1984 in a movie theatre, Instead I watched it on my PC using the streaming service HBO MAX on a friend’s account and with a VPN so it thought I was in the US. Which is all a lot of effort just to watch a brand new blockbuster for free, but considering that this again was on the same release date in theatres in the US and around other parts of the world, Wonder Woman 1984 is not just a fun experience my family and I got to watch on Christmas , but an indicator of the upcoming future of how movies will work and how we’ll watch them all over the world.

 

So what do I mean when I talk about Wonder Woman signifying a change how we will watch movies? Well if you watched the movie (which is pretty good by the way), this isn’t a meta joke on how that movie’s villain ends up pretty intertwined with the media. Instead, today I’m talking about the announcement Warner Brothers/ Warner Media , the same company that owns HBO Max ,made earlier this year: every major movie that they release from the end of this year and all of 2021 will be released not only select cinemas around the world, but on HBO Max (the USA version of it at least) on the exact same date and sometimes even exclusively on the streaming service. This is huge because it completely flips the concept of how movies work and are released , usually spending a month or three in cinemas exclusively, then moving to DVD and Digital releases, along with streaming services a few months later(You can click here if you want to understand how this works). Instead with Warner Media aiming to leverage it’s massive 2021 release slate of movies on HBO Max, that exclusivity for theatres is essentially non-existent, and it’s a huge boost for HBO Max that will likely ricochet into a lot of the other main streaming services including Netflix, Disney+ and every other service that has an exclusive movie library and release slate it can leverage as well.  
Every big WB movie of next year will be on HBO Max First.
And why are Warner Media and HBO Max doing this? Well, the same reason the movie industry is in a chokehold at the moment: COVID-19. While things are finally beginning to look up with working vaccines beginning to circulate, most of the world is still on various levels of safety or precautionary measures. Hence going to the movies are definitely still an activity that’s still out of the picture for most people around the world, and 2020 itself has pretty much had a lack of movies as every big studio has had to delay their big releases to next year in hopes of the pandemic’s influence dying down. Major players like the next James Bond movie No Time To Die, Marvel’s Black Widow, and even other Warner Brothers movies have suffered this fate. Viewed in this lens the Warner move to have all the Warner movies on HBO Max is pretty ingenious, especially with record increases in streaming services all over the world. All these movies which should have gained the majority of their money from movie ticket sales at least have the fallback plan of streaming subscriptions having their percentages cut and directed to a certain movie of the month for example. It also acts as a huge incentive for users to join HBO Max, which is a much newer player in the streaming space that still has Netflix on top and Disney+ gaining on it due to shows like The Mandalorian. But it’s also a move that only companies like Warner Media can make. While Netflix does produce original movies that are constantly increasing in quality, they aren’t comparable to franchises Warner owns like DC, Harry Potter or The Matrix, which are also the same franchises many of the 2021 release slate. Disney could challenge this move, owning everything from Marvel to Star Wars to even Aliens , but it seems Disney trusts that cinemas will be okay by mid 2021, as movies like Black Widow are still on track for cinema releases. But if things get worse (as they might with this new COVID-19 strand), chances are Disney+ could be the new home of Marvel movie premiers next to select theatres as well. And that’s where the real big shift could begin, because if people start getting used to watching big movie premiers on their computers and TV’s, chances are even when theatres do finally open up, a lot of us might not really have interest anymore. And that’s a fate no big movie theatre chain or even the movie industry itself wants to suffer. After all movies for the past decade have been fighting for relevance, with the rise of streaming already threatening their performance at theatres, as well as age old problems like piracy that have only become more potent due to internet access becoming more widespread. Hence this huge shift could have a lot of repercussions for everyone involved in or who watches movies, whether in the short or long term.
Disney+ is currently still relying on Marvel and Star Wars shows, but if the pandemic somehow gets worse you can expect movies like Black Widow on Disney+ as well.
What’s ironic about this is that it’s the movie streaming coming full circle as far as its story is concerned. After all streaming services were birthed from the idea of internet piracy, opting to instead make legitimate, convenient services that users would pay a fraction of the price for to watch content online, even if it would be around DVD release date time. But now this same model is essentially laying a final blow on the same movie industry it seemed to work in tandem with, at least as far as it’s prevailing model of operation is concerned, while also changing how we experience movies ourselves. Ironically enough, in the case of HBO Max, it arguably promotes piracy as well all over again, because now original quality movies will be ripped from the service on the release date as well, meaning people don’t have to wait months to pirate the movie at its best, something that at least motivated some (especially those here in Zim) towards the full cinema experience. The fact that this premier feature is only available on HBO Max for the US rat the time of writing this, just further promotes piracy too, as now even people in other developed nations probably ripped Wonder Woman on Christmas day as well just so they could watch it with their families. This exclusivity will likely end of course, as HBO Max itself plans to move into more nations, but it still highlights a larger problem anyway. Streaming services aren’t big in Zimbabwe because of our internet issues, while many are not even available in our country. Hence officially speaking, we might not even get to experience this odd time in movie releases and the transition towards streaming, even if we likely will experience its aftereffects if movies start to focus more on streaming releases and less of them arrive to theatres in future. And again, it still pushes for us to pirate these movies too, which might not necessarily be admirable but is pretty practical when all things are considered. It’s the kind of predicament that makes you realize that these decisions were definitely thought through in the middle of the pandemic, and are being ironed out as time goes on. How beneficial they will be to everyone still remains to be seen, but the HBO Max/Warner move will likely be one that will be remembered regardless of how this all goes, and it definitely meant to start that way too, starting off with arguably the biggest movie of 2020 in terms of scale. Now to see how the world reacts.

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