Monday, January 04, 2021

The Warner Brothers announcement that shocked Hollywood... but not me

Warner Brothers Pictures recently announced they were putting their entire slate of 2021 releases on HBO Max the same time they’re releasing them to theaters.  This has theater chains and filmmakers all up in arms.   For good reason.   Media pundits are calling this unprecedented.  Uh, no.  It’s happened before.  

Let’s go back to the ‘80s and that now quaint form of entertainment -- television.   If you had a hit sitcom the studio would sell it into syndication to the highest bidders.  If you happened to be a writer or actor or director who had a piece of the show you got insanely rich.  The studios would get richer, but that’s fair.  They also laid out all the money above the license fee to produce the show.  And lots of shows fail and the studios lose money.  But still, in success, everybody scored big.  

Then the studios started launching cable networks.  And of course they needed product.  Let’s take MASH — an absolute cash cow in syndication.  Owned by 20th Century Fox.  The studio debuted FX.  The studio decided to run multiple episodes of MASH.  Its value in syndication dropped because no longer were local markets the exclusive provider of the show.  20th made less money on MASH.  But they made more money on FX.  They sold and kept all the advertising.  Anyone who was a profit participant in MASH got screwed.   As a result, Alan Alda sued 20th and won a hefty settlement.   

The point is 20th was more concerned with their cable channel than one of their shows.   This type of thing happens when giant conglomerates take over studios.  

AT&T now owns Time-Warner, which included HBO Max.  The future in broadcast platforms is streaming.  And the competition is fierce.  Once it pretty much was just Netflix and Hulu as a distant second.  Now there’s HBO Max, Apple +, Disney +, Amazon Prime, CBS All Access, Peacock with more on the way.  People aren’t gong to pay $14 a month to seven streaming services.  Maybe they’ll pop for two.  Each of these streaming services is owned by giant behemoths like Apple, Amazon, Viacom, Comcast, and Disney.  They’ve spent billions to launch their services.  In time some are going to go away or be swallowed up.  At the moment, the race is on and the stakes are enormous.  

HBO Max got off to a disappointing start.  I don’t know what their expectations were but they didn’t meet them.  So to give their service a shot in the arm, AT&T has decided to release all new WB movies on HBO Max.  Now they’ll say they’re doing it for the fans.  But that’s utter bullshit.  They’re doing it to bolster HBO Max.   

So what if you’re a profit participant in one of those films?  Forget about the $100,00,000 opening weekend and your cut (once the pandemic is finally over).  It’ll open at a tiny fraction of that.  You get fucked.  You see the pattern?   And add this to that:  the filmmakers who produced the 2021 slate of WB films were always under the impression their films would first be released in theaters.  When you do a picture for Netflix you know it’s destined for the small screen.  But not a WB project.  So the rug was pulled out from under them.  

Oh, and how’d you like to own AMC theaters?  

I’m waiting to see if other conglomerates do the same thing.  The theater experience is slowly coming to an end. Watching a film with lots of other people, all laughing or cheering or gasping or whatever enhances the movie experience.  And that is going away other than big IMAX CGI superhero sequels.  It’s a shame really.  The entertainment industry has always been about money.  But at one time the people in charge also loved movies.  Today, they couldn’t care less.  Which also means they couldn’t care less about YOU.   Not exactly a "happy ending." 

32 comments :

Bertha said...

While the movie theatre experience disappearing is disappointing to an extent, given the way people behave in public nowadays it’s not the complete loss it would’ve been some years ago. Yes, seeing a film on the big screen is a wonderful experience unlike no other, but having to deal with the behaviour of other patrons (cellphones, talking, general disruption) can really detract from the experience, and in many cases ruin it. Maybe until people learn public manners again, enjoying films from the comfort of your home big screen TV is the way to go for the moment.

Brian said...

"But at one time the people in charge also loved movies."

I have a book by Max Wilk called "The Wit and Wisdom of Hollywood" that echoes this sentiment. I'm paraphrasing here, but the person he quoted said, "The old studio heads were jerks down to their shoes, but they loved movies. The people that are there now should be selling used cars."

This book was printed in 1971. One might even say a death knell was sounded when Paramount started KTLA and donated copies their existing library of films up to 1949. They were asked to divest their interest in the station, but the films, of course, stayed.

The dry rot that is spreading has been in place for a long time.

BG said...

When the WB plan was announced a couple weeks ago, several FB friends mentioned the movie theater experience just got endangered. And it's a shame, because I have too many memories of an entire room cracking up at whatever comedy, or screaming during a jump scare.

I love the privacy of watching on my couch, but a lot gets lost IMO. I think when the world eventually reopens, there will still be people who appreciate that experience. It may be in a theater with way fewer than 200 seats or a "Multiplex" with two dozen screens, but I think we'll still have theaters.

Daniel said...

The one variable that you leave out of your essay is how absolutely terrible the theatre-going experience has become in the last 20 years or so since the advent of the cell phone. Listening to people like Christopher Nolan plead for the sanctity of the theatre experience rings hollow because the guy is watching movies in private screening rooms that are clean, well-maintained, and there are no people on their phones the entire movie. Every theatre runs a message before every movie telling patrons to stay off their phones, but they do absolutely nothing to enforce this rule. So you've got a theatre full of little blue screens throughout the audience, distracting anyone trying to pay attention to the picture on screen. Or even worse, they're talking throughout the film.

Theatre owners and managers have had decades to do something about this and they've refused. They've raised prices, cut staffing, and let the theatre-going experience atrophy to the point of being irredeemably unpleasant. So while I might have had sympathy with your argument in the past, I would honestly rather watch the entire movie theatre industry burn to the ground. If an entire industry has naked contempt for their customer base, they shouldn't be surprised when the customers are contemptuous in return.

Jeff Boice said...

The big studios owned theaters up until the late 1940's when the Justice Department intervened. So what's going on now is a reversion.

Ed from SFV said...

It was not done intentionally, yet the demise of community watching experiences is apace with the ever-increasing solitary behavior of most folks. The genius phones are the main culprit, of course. Now, we have the pandemic and the literal isolations of so many.

Everyone retreats to their little pods (homes) and brings in the world without having to deal with relating to others.

This is ruinous to a species which is programmed to be social. Suicide is not painless.

Anonymous said...

Did the Fin-Syn rule affect this? Movies seem very samey these days. It's all superheroes all the time. TV is very good in some ways, but also very cold. Breaking Bad was absolutely amazing but, wow, so dark. We just went through the apocalypse. Zombies and post-apocalyptic wastelands are not escapist any more. Sad.

Pat Reeder said...

Having had the Covid already, my wife and I go to theaters because we like seeing movies on the big screen and we want to support our local theaters and their employees. Here in the DFW area, most people are pretty polite and don't cause the annoying problems others have mentioned. Problem is, there is absolutely nothing out now that we have any interest in seeing. I know, I really tried over the weekend, but couldn't muster up interest in any new film. We've been to the movies four or five times in the past month, but only to see older movies like "The Blues Brothers," "Planes, Trains and Automobiles," "Spaceballs," and at the end of this month, we're going back to see "Duck Soup."

I have all these films on DVD/Blu-Ray, but we just like seeing them in theaters. If the studios want us to pay to see new movies, then make some as good as those.

PS - I've also had a copy of "The Wit and Wisdom of Hollywood" for ages. One of my favorite books when I was a kid. All these years later, I still have the book, but Hollywood no longer has wit or wisdom.

Ere I Saw Elba said...

If the way syndication used to work in the 70s and 80s was basic math, then today's video media is graduate-level advanced calculus. In short, there is no possible way to completely understand it, even if we care to.

We're in a post-network society now, and it won't go back to the old system. I think the question, as always, is who controls media content. Maybe it's not a programming director or corporate executive, but perhaps a spambot or randomized meme generator.

It's a brave new world whether we like it or not.

Steve Bailey said...

"The theatre experience is coming to an end." The end for me came years ago. The last few times I went to the movies with my son, we were bombarded with ads and endless trailers. Whenever a showtime was listed in the newspaper, my son assured me we could get there 20 minutes late and still not miss any of the movie because of all the pre-movie junk. Plus, as someone else mentioned, people are always talking and using their cell phones during the movie. Movie-going is no longer a communal experience. It's a bunch of separate patrons doing their own thing while a movie happens to be playing on the screen.

iamr4man said...

Last time I went to the movie theater it was to see Hayao Miyazaki’s “My Neighbor Totoro” with our grandkids, ages 6 and 4. Our son thought it was a great first ever movie experience for them. The kids had already seen the film several times on TV but we all thought seeing it in a theater would be fun. So, after an endless stream of trailers another film started. We weren’t quite sure if it was another trailer or what, but it seemed inappropriate for the crowd of kids there. Apparently someone had failed to switch the digital projector from the evening film. The film that was playing was, I kid you not, “Hell Fest”. Parents began running out with their screaming kids in tow. Our kids cried and my grandson sat down outside and cried.
I recognize there is a comical aspect to this if you weren’t there with your kids. Poor Totoro will never be the same to them.

Kaleberg said...

That does bring back the memories: watching Spinal Tap in a theater and being the only people in the room who understood it was a comedy, watching Platoon in a theater and being the only people in the room who didn't need repeated bathroom and popcorn breaks from the cliches and scenery chewing, or maybe watching Who Framed Roger Rabbit and being the only people not having children to shush. The last time I watched movies with a sympatico crowd was back in the early 1970s at the college film series, and we all came to enjoy the heckling.

Now, we save the theater experience for 3D IMAX presentations of comic book movies. Jack Kirby had an amazing imagination, so it's worth a few annoyances to see his larger than life vision at full scale. (There's also a local stuff-your-face theater with a good wine list and great sliders, and I'm not sure if immersive stuff like Machine Hallucinations even counts as theater though its pretty cool.)

KB said...

I agree with some of these other comments. Going to a movie theater has not been an enjoyable experience for me in years. The absolute lack of respect from the other patrons is astounding. People pay a ridiculous price (in LA anyway) to take a chance on a movie, and then have to be bombarded with ads, glowing phones, constant chit chat throughout, and often unruly kids that have been dragged there seemingly against their will. It's miserable. Additionally, 75% of the time the movie is a turd anyway.

memocartoonist said...

I, too, used to love the 'going to the movies' experience - but between the pricing, the unbelivable amount of ads, and the severe annoyance of haivng to deal with other patrons who don't seem to realize that they are having a communal experience - I lost interest in going to a theater long before Covid. I feel sorry for anyone who has lost their business, but if the movie theater experience were better, we, as customers, would be fighting tooth and nail to return to that experience. Since it's not, I'm happy to sack out on the couch and watch stuff on TV/cable/apps. And yes, most of the stuff we were paying $16 a person (in NYC) was not worth it. When we saw WW84 the other night, I couldn't help but think how it was 'fine' for what we paid for one month of HBOMax, but I would have been super angry if I'd had to pay $32 for two tickets and then another $20 or whatever for snacks.
Someone mentioned that the last time they had a good movie theater experience was the 70s... I've had terrific experiences when seeing films in recent years at single screen theaters here in NYC, i.e. the Paris. Doesn't matter what the film was, people who went to that theater knew how to act in a public setting. Granted, the patrons at the Paris were mostly north of 60/65/70 but there was something in the way this age group behaves in public that is condusive for a positive movie theater experience. That closed in 2019 and re-opened as a showcase for Netflix films. I'm glad they rescued it but I wonder if the temperament of the audience will stay the same (unlikely since it'll draw from a different demo).

In the end, this may be the death knell for the big budget super hero flick - I'm a fan of the genre but I think with like three dozen movies in the last decade, we've done it and it can take a rest now.... or it can change itself into shows like The Mandalorian which stick to their genre roots but due to good writing, acting and very good special effects has become, for me, must see tv.

Unknown said...

I disagree about movie theatres going away, I still enjoy seeing things on the 'BIG' screen. I think I would have enjoyed WW84 a little big more if I saw that costume being 10 feet tall.

I think to make money they lost, we will see more ads before the show which REALLY sucks. Saw Tenet during the lock down reprieve, 30 minutes of ads NOT about movies before it started. I too don't enjoy the talking/phone stuff during movies, but I also don't like watching a movie at home, having to take a break to let the dog out, answer the phone, my wife using the phone during the movie, my wife asking questions during the movie, none of which happens when I drop $30 for movie and popcorn.(Which I hate paying so much)

Michael said...

I THINK Chuck Jones sued Warner Bros. over who really owned those cartoon characters, and of course, and of course he didn't have the copyright. But it's not as if Hollywood studios ever cared about quality or decency except when it could make money for them.

YEKIMI said...

Here's what may happen. Eventually WB [or other movie studios] are going to have a turd on their hands OR too many movies to put on HBO Max [or Disney+, etc.] then they're going to come crawling to theaters that are left asking them to play them. Guess what? They may get a big "Fuck You!" from the theaters. If they want to release it to their online platforms and theaters on the same day....they'll get an even bigger "Fuck off & Fuck you!" from us. I'm now a GM for a small chain of drive-ins and right now NO Warner Brother's movies will be shown on our screens, even if they're second run. And if they come in demanding we play it for 6 weeks and they want 60-70% of the box they're going to be told to stick it where the sun don't shine. Surprisingly, the 20-40 year old features we ran did anywhere from two to four times the business of the few current films from independent smaller studios that we were playing. We just may play them for as long as we can and even though the film companies tried screwing ALL theaters on the percentages [The Greedy Bastards eventually settled for half]. Oh...if they 30-40 year old movie is from WB....it won't be showing on our screens. They may be trying to drive theaters out of business but I'll be damned if I'm going to help them do it.

blinky said...

I think the movie theater experience began to die with the multiplex where there were a few big theaters for big hits but most movies were in small rooms that were actually worse than my living room set up.
Plus since the rooms were more living room sized, more people talked and were jerks.
Lord of the Rings trilogy was the last big screen movie I enjoyed with a crowd.

DBenson said...

I've been to a few movies with audience issues. It was often just a handful of jerks or less, but that was more than enough, like a single flatulent passenger on an airplane. What bothers me is that going to movies is increasingly less like going to a show than going to a pre-TSA airport for a commuter run. Start with the ticket agents behind a wide counter, go through a concession stand configured like a supermarket, then report to departure gate 7 for the 6:45 showing. With the constant flow of arrivals and departures there was no longer the sense of attending an Event, unless you lucked into a crowd that was genuinely excited (and were not disappointed by the movie).

Some theaters are trying for an upscale experience, serving meals and attaching bars and lounges. The concept of a one-stop night out has its points, and there's something to be said for reserved seats ("Scuse me ... Scuse me ... Scuse me ... Could you move your coat, please? ... Oh ... Scuse me ... Scuse me ..."). But it's a different animal and I'm not used to it.

I grouchily miss theaters that were theaters. The big first-run places, the neighborhood houses showing two or three different programs each week, the early plexes with four screens max. Lining up in front of local storefronts closed for the day (real estate, haberdasher, travel agent ...), walking under a big marquee with only a few big names on it, and into a lobby that, no matter how humble, had a pre-show buzz. And a curtain that opened to reveal the screen just as the projector went on. And a decent cartoon! Cost-inefficient and less convenient than showtimes every ten minutes, but that was entertainment!

Troy McClure said...

You left out Pureflix, the hilariously shit faith based streaming service. Judging by the clips on YouTube of their sitcoms, Pureflix is aimed at witless, Trump voting creationists. Some of the big stars on their shows are...Antonio Sabato Jr, ummm, Victoria Jackson, and...errr...Clint Howard.

Dave said...

Hi Ken,
Can't recall reading anything from you mentioning the show "The Great". It's one show that I think actually fits the dramedy tag with more of a lean towards the comedy side and apparently it was nominated for an Emmy in that category. Production values are great and Nicholas Hoult and Elle Fanning have great chemistry. It's a light hearted look at the son of Peter the Great and his new bride, the soon to be Catherine the Great. I just think you'll get a laugh as my wife and I certainly did. Huzzah!(which will make more sense if you watch it)
cheers
Dave.

sanford said...

It does depend on where you live as to the cost of the movie. The average ticket price in 1969 was $1.42. Adjusted for inflation, that ticket would cost $10.14 in 2019 dollars. While you dollar went farther back then. People were not making as much money. When I started going to the movies the average price was 49 cents. For that you got a double feature and a cartoon. That was just over 4 dollars in today's money that was 4.75. By 1954 standard movies are over price but not 1969. Don't forget people were making less in 1954 and most women were not working. As for the old movie moguls loving film. That is possible but if there was internet and streaming service were available that love of movies would go out the window. The rich have never changed.

Unknown said...
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Chakkuri said...

While it is sad to see the movie theater experience on the decline, I agree with Bertha’s post at the top. Common courtesy and good manners are also unfortunately on the decline. With that said, I would much prefer to view films in the comfort and silence of my living room than a theater of noisy people on mobile phones.

Michael said...

The product has become garbage. At the end of the naked cash grab, Captain Marvel, my preadolescent daughter turned to me as the house lights came up and said, "That was boring." Superhero movies offer nothing substantive or interesting.

The action movies are shot and edited for video games instead of the big screen.

We have been at this juncture before. Once upon a time, Hollywood filled its release dates with westerns, westerns, and more westerns. The superhero movies of today are the westerns of yore.

The western gave way to a golden age of movies that many of us remember. I doubt though we will see another golden age of movies.

The screenwriters on here can debate the merits of writing a 90-minute movie for adults compared to developing the same story for an eight-episode series on Netflix. Put another way: Would Russian Doll been as or more effective as a 90-minute movie? I seriously doubt it.

In a post Covid 19 world, DC movies, Marvel movies, Bond movies, Mission Impossible movies, Pixar movies will all return to the theaters. There is too much money to be made. The Russian Dolls will only head to whatever streaming service offers the best deal.

Anonymous said...

1. “Production values are great and Nicholas Hoult and Elle Fanning have great chemistry. It's a light hearted look at the son of Peter the Great and his new bride, the soon to be Catherine the Great.”

If only Allan "Rocky" Lane were alive to voice her horse.

2. USA-filmed Superhero/action movies are like those from the silent era - in that the visuals are everything, and thus they’re more likely to earn larger sums in foreign lands than those that are English-dialogue driven. Every studio head has one eye on the China market and the other on the stock market.

Breadbaker said...

The accounting trick you describe is similar to how major league baseball teams now own their cable networks and the "rights" get sold for peanuts so the teams can plead revenue problems to the cities to get new stadiums and hide the real profits from the players.

Roger Owen Green said...

My problem - and maybe it's not other people's problems - is that when I watch movies on TV, people in my house treat it like TV, talking during it. That's OK for a movie I've already seen. They also want to pause it for bathroom breaks, et al.

For a movie that's brand new to me, I've ended up watching in my office, alone, on my computer screen. Better than nothing, but not like going to the movies, which I haven't done since March and won't until I get the vaccine.

Rick Hirsch said...

I've become a little weary of reading message boards where people claim that theaters only show superhero movies these days. In 2019 (the last normal year for the movie business), a total of 786 movies were released to theaters in the United States. Exactly 11 of these were superhero films. That means only 1.4% of films were superhero movies. Yes, they do big box office and get a lot of publicity, but so what. If you don't like superheroes you have hundreds of other options to choose from when going to the movies. I don't like horror movies but I don't complain that theaters run them. Superhero movies also help theaters to survive, giving them the opportunity to show the other 99.6% of films not based on comic books.

Like anyone who sees a lot of movies in theaters I've had to deal with people who talk too much won't turn off their cell phones but this has only happened to me a small number of times over the years. The movie theaters where I live (Portland, Maine) have mostly been converted into deluxe seating with comfy recliners. You can buy your seats in advance so you can pick where you want to sit in the theater. I buy seats in the row behind the handicapped row so I have a completely unobstructed view. It's very rare for someone in these nicer theaters to talk through the movie or use their mobile phone. The cost is only a couple of dollars higher than what it costs to attend a theater with traditional seating.

Mr Ed said...

That’s a great idea for a ... The near future: garbage disposal breaks so boy has to go outside for the first time in years where he meets girl ditto. But meanwhile... :)

MikeN said...

AMC was ahead of the curve. It wasn't Warner Bros. They got mad at Universal for suggesting they would break the exclusive window for theater releases and preemptively banned Universal films from their theaters. They then struck a deal that gave AMC a cut in all Universal films including on-demand releases.

Sami said...

I used to love going to the movies. You could get a nice price on the twlight feature and have a nice time. Then you had the rest of the evening free. But the sound got so loud, I had to take kleenex and stuff them in my ears. Or in quieter movies, I had to listen to the crashes/explosions/way-too-loud stuff coming in from other movies and interrupting mine. Buying tickets got to be a big hassle--online or phone or something. I just want to walk up and buy a ticket, you know? Not invest an hour online trying to pick seats, times, etc. It's a movie, not a flight. The prices got crazy--I could literally buy the dvd for the price of a ticket. That is ridiculous.

What finally made me quit the movies entirely was seeing three stinkers in a row. I hated the new Star Wars with Rey and I don't remember the other characters or the actual name of the movie. That entire movie was just parts of old Star Wars movies sewn together. I could tell what was about to happen throughout the whole thing because I had seen it before. Many times over the years on vhs then dvd! And I am not a person that really ever figues out whodunnit...I am just there to watch and enjoy. Then there was Fantastic Beasts or something like that which was sooooo boring. And I like Harry Potter stories for the most part. But the absolute worst was Downsizing with Matt Damon. He is a good actor and it seemed like an amusing idea of shrinking people. Kristen Wiig was his wife, so cute and funny is what I exoected. It was awful. I have never been in a movie where people thought it was finally mercifully ending and we started to get up to leave, but the movie was not over! There were very loud audible sighs! Some folks just left. I paid good money for that garbage, so I sat through the next 30 minutes to an hour (I think I've blocked out how long it was, but it was a LONG time). It was so horrible, I refused to go back to the movies even before the pestilence because of these cumulative experiences, but especially that stupid Downsizing movie. Not funny. Not Interesting. Just a meandering pile of pig guano mixed with owl shat.

What I do now is borrow dvds from the library. Even use interlibrary loan. Costs me nothing. If I don't like it, I eject it and move on. If I do, it's nice. I can watch as much or as little as I have time to or care to. I control the volume and can rewind if I miss someting and turn on the subtitles beacause the balance between music/background noise and people talking is often off. And some people just mumble. And I do not have to deal with other people in the audience irritating me. I am never paying for another terrible movie again.