AMC shares closed down nearly 16% on the news.
It's an example of how AT&T is adapting to the coronavirus pandemic, allowing people to safely watch new films at home without having to venture out to a movie theater, many of which have been closed because of the increasing spread of Covid. It's also a move that Warner Bros. already made with "Wonder Woman 1984," which will be released to theaters and HBO Max on Christmas Day. That movie was originally scheduled to come out in the summer, but was delayed several times before WarnerMedia decided to release it on HBO Max.
HBO Max is AT&T's online video service, which launched in the U.S. in May. It costs $14.99 per month and includes access to movies and TV shows.
"No one wants films back on the big screen more than we do," Ann Sarnoff, chair and CEO of WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group said. "We know new content is the lifeblood of theatrical exhibition, but we have to balance this with the reality that most theaters in the U.S. will likely operate at reduced capacity throughout 2021."
Warner Bros. movies launching in 2021 include "The Little Things," "Judas and the Black Messiah," "Tom & Jerry," "Godzilla vs. Kong," "Mortal Kombat," "Those Who Wish Me Dead," "The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It," "In The Heights," "Space Jam: A New Legacy," "The Suicide Squad," "Reminiscence," "Malignant," "Dune," "The Many Saints of Newark," "King Richard," "Cry Macho" and "Matrix 4."
Universal took a similar approach in April and released "Trolls World Tour" online and in theaters at the same time. But, that required people to purchase the movie since it wasn't available as part of a subscription package at the time. In July, Universal shortened the number of days films needed to run in theaters before they were available online through an agreement with AMC Theaters. Before that accord, theaters had exclusive rights to Universal films for 90 days.
Disney has also experimented with launching a blockbuster movie directly on streaming. Earlier this year, Disney released "Mulan" on Disney+ as a one-time, $30 purchase.
Cinemark, a U.S. movie theater chain, responded to WarnerMedia's decision on Thursday afternoon. "In light of the current operating environment, we are making near-term booking decisions on a film-by-film basis," a Cinemark spokesperson said. "At this time, Warner Brothers has not provided any details for the hybrid distribution model of their 2021 films."
Disclosure: NBCUniversal is the parent company of Universal Studios and CNBC.
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