LOS ANGELES: AT&T's Warner Bros studio on Thursday (Dec 3) announced that it will make all of its 2021 films available in theatres and on the HBO Max streaming service starting on the same day, an unprecedented shift in response to the coronavirus pandemic that sank shares of movie theatre operators.
The movies, which are expected to include Godzilla vs Kong and Mortal Kombat, will be available on HBO Max for one month starting on the same day they debut in cinemas, the studio said in a statement.
Other upcoming movies affected include The Suicide Squad, a new version of Dune and a Matrix sequel.
Studios have been pushing to make their movies available in living rooms sooner than the typical timeline of roughly 90 days after they debut in cinemas. Theatres have long resisted that idea.
Shares of AMC Entertainment, the world's largest theatre operator, fell 12 per cent. Rival movie theatre operator Cinemark's shares dropped 10 per cent.
Warner Bros executives said the strategy would be in place for one year and was a response to the unique challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced many theatres to remain closed.
"No one wants films back on the big screen more than we do," said Ann Sarnoff, chair and CEO of WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group.
"We know new content is the lifeblood of theatrical exhibition, but we have to balance this with the reality that most theatres in the US will likely operate at reduced capacity throughout 2021."
Cineworld, owner of the US Regal cinema chain, secured an additional US$750 million in funding on Monday to cushion itself against the impact of the coronavirus as it aims to reopen next year.
While US rival AMC has kept its doors open with enough cash until early 2021, Cineworld's base case scenario assumes it has enough money if it reopens its venues by next May.
Cinemark struck a deal last month that will allow Universal Pictures to offer its movies in US homes as soon as 17 days after they debut in theatres. The multi-year agreement is similar to one that Comcast-owned Universal made in July with AMC.