The past few months have been incredibly unprecedented for the entertainment industry, as countless forms of entertainment try to rebound amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The movie industry has been particularly impacted by this search for a new normal, as theaters in only select locations are beginning to reopen safely. As a result, countless titles have had to delay their theatrical releases, or forgo a traditional run entirely and just release on digital. According to Warner Bros. CEO Ann Sarnoff, that mix of options might be a signifier of where the company's films ultimately move forward. As Sarnoff recently told Deadline, she definitely thinks the theatrical experience will continue to endure, but that there will be "more flexibility" between theatrical and streaming release windows going forward.
“I’m bullish that all the models will survive and that theatrical will definitely be a huge part of our go-forward strategy, but I think there will be more flexibility in the windows going forward; the circuits have been willing to engage in that,” Sarnoff explained.
“We’re really collaborating with the big circuits and really understanding how we can make it a big win-win for them, for us and the fans, because certain movies have long lives in theaters, and others don’t, and you need flexibility in the model to migrate it to another format if it’s not working in theaters," Sarnoff said, in reference to the recent deal between Universal and AMC. "Right now, I don’t have news for you, but there’s a tremendous spirit of collaboration and mutual interest in which we’re pursuing on our discussions.”
Warner Bros. has already showcased a lot of those possibilities with its theatrical releases, including giving Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) an early VOD release, while the animated film Scoob! was released entirely on VOD instead of in theaters. While studios have had wildly different approaches to measuring VOD success amid the pandemic, Sarnoff hinted that Warner Bros. is still figuring out exactly what that looks like.
"I do think we’ll get to a point where those numbers will be disclosed. With Scoob which was released after Trolls World Tour, we’re still figuring out how it’s all going to work," Sarnoff revealed. "Theatrical releases are followed by home entertainment, etc. — you have to figure out how the whole ecosystem is going to be impacted by the change in release strategy. And I think at least for us, we didn’t want to release numbers until we knew what they meant, and how we were going to restructure our deals along the way. So, I think what you saw was a first time trial of ‘let’s see what happens’ and if it becomes more standardized, then my guess you will still start to see those numbers. We just have to figure out how the whole ecosystem works with a different model.”