Streaming wars: How threatening are they really to the film industry?

The death of cinema? Not so fast. (Photo: Getty Images)
The death of cinema? Not so fast. (Photo: Getty Images)

In a world of countless entertainment opportunities, movies are one of the few remaining proven ways to attract a new audience and retain existing ones. Yet the dominant narrative seems to be that in the age of the internet the old system of theatrical release can no longer cater for audiences worldwide – or so we are told.

Digital technologies – streaming in particular – are expected to replace the legacy of theatrical releases, bringing movies into the fold of the growing Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) list of industries, as opposed to third-party distribution through theatrical release.

This particular story of the new supplanting the old – turbocharged by the pandemic – is often portrayed as a matter of “when”, not “if”. It was under this narrative that AT&T – the US telecommunications giant that owns Warner Brothers – suddenly announced its decision to release all of Warner Brothers movies for 2021 simultaneously in cinemas and on HBO Max, its streaming service.

Industry observers and commentators have accordingly suggested the move shows that the studio “has finally embraced the inevitable future, even if they’re not saying it explicitly”.

This bold move has managed the rather rare feat of uniting everyone in the film industry in utter contempt. Filmmakers feel betrayed, as they had in good faith designed movies meant for the big screen to be experienced in a theatrical setting. Cinemas, both independents and major chains, feel abandoned in perhaps their most desperate hour of need.

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