Warner Bros.' Streaming Plans Shake Up Global Release Schedule

Wonder Woman 1984
Warner Bros. Entertainment

Warner Bros.' 'Wonder Woman 1984.'

Warner has not revealed how its 2021 slate, which will launch simultaneously in theaters and on streamer HBO Max in the U.S., will roll out in theaters internationally.

Warner Bros.' shock announcement this week that it will bow all its 2021 titles — including blockbusters such as Matrix 4, Dune, and Suicide Squad — simultaneously in theaters and on its streaming platform HBO Max in the U.S. has left exhibitors outside America scrambling to keep up.

At the moment, HBO Max is only available stateside. Hours after Warner Bros.' announcement on Dec. 3, Andy Forssell, head of HBO Max Global, speaking at online technology conference Web Summit, said the streaming service will be available in Latin America and some territories in Europe "by the end of next year." WarnerMedia's plan is to upgrade its HBO Now streaming service in those territories to HBO Max.

HBO Now is not available in much of Europe, including Europe's four biggest territories — the U.K., France, Germany and Italy — where HBO has multiyear output deals with local pay TV operators.

Outside the U.S., Warner Bros. has said it is planning a theatrical bow for Wonder Woman 1984 and its 2021 feature slate. What is unclear is how long the theatrical window will be in individual territories. In the U.K., the film is set for a Dec. 16 release in so-called Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities, where cinemas can still operate. Currently, London is Tier 2.

But Warners is understood to be pushing for an early VOD release for the title, just 28 days after its theatrical bow, instead of the usual 16-week gap between theatrical release and online bow in the U.K.

Elsewhere in Europe, already battered exhibitors could see further pressure to shrink the theatrical window for studio releases, particularly if the films are getting streaming releases in the U.S., increasing the chances they could be pirated. Cinemas in France, Germany and Italy are currently shuttered. France plans to ease lockdown measures on Dec. 15, allowing theaters to reopen, though a 9 p.m.-7 a.m. curfew will be in place. Both Italy and Germany have extended their lockdown measures into January. It's anyone's guess where Wonder Woman 1984, planned as a holiday release across the continent, will land on the schedule.

What seems certain is that as theaters reopen, so will negotiations between Warners and exhibitors.

"We believe that at such a time," Cineworld, the world's second-largest exhibitor said in a statement Friday, "WB will look to reach an agreement about the proper window and terms that will work for both sides. Big movies are made for the big screen, and we cannot wait to reopen our cinemas in Q1 in order to offer our customers, as always, the best place to watch a movie."