The trade group Independent Cinema Alliance, which represents the interests of independent cinema owners and operators across North America, has released a statement expressing their disappointment over Warner Bros.’ decision to release their 2021 slate day-and-date in theaters and on HBOMax.
The ICA previously expressed support when that strategy was applied only to the Christmas release of Wonder Woman 1984, with ICA president Byron Berkley noting that “Warner Bros. has again shown their unwavering commitment to theatrical exhibition by virtually saving Christmas for our industry, keeping Wonder Woman 1984 on December 25th.”
In a new statement, while acknowledging that “unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures,” the ICA notes that they are “disappointed in WarnerMedia’s questionable decision to release its entire 2021 film slate simultaneously in movie theaters and on HBO Max. WarnerMedia is correct that its content is extremely valuable, but it also must know that theatrical exclusivity is what drives that value—not streaming. Given that COVID-19 vaccines will begin distribution in the coming weeks, the ICA calls on our partners at Warner Bros. and other studios to help write the industry’s comeback story with a recommitment to exclusive theatrical content.”
Statements from AMC and Regal/Cineworld, the two largest exhibitors in North America, also cited the upcoming vaccines as a reason for consternation about Warner Bros.’ decision, under which their entire 2021 slate will be available on HBOMax during the first month of their respective films’ theatrical runs. Cinemark also responded to the Warner Bros. news, noting that “in light of the current operating environment, we are making near-term booking decisions on a film-by-film basis.”
Continues the ICA in their statement:
The ICA welcomes short-term, innovative film distribution models developed to bridge the coronavirus pandemic. It is important that our studio partners support independent exhibitors during this crisis with new theatrical releases backed by robust marketing campaigns. For our part, exhibitors will bring the magic of moviegoing to communities across America while implementing expert-backed, industry-specific health and safety protocols.
But let’s be very clear, it is essential to the success of the entire motion picture ecosystem that hybrid distribution models influenced by the pandemic properly reflect appropriate terms for movie theater owners. It is also imperative that these reactionary policies made in response to a public health crisis do not reflect long-term, formal shifts in distribution strategies for studio films. A theatrically driven business model is vital to the success of movie theater owners, studios, and the creative community. The ICA looks forward to collaborating with our partners in Hollywood on deliberate, innovative solutions that build a brighter future for this great industry.