Shares in London-listed cinema chains dived this morning after Warner Media revealed it is to release 17 major blockbusters into cinemas and on its streaming service simultaneously next year, sending a chill through operators worldwide.
The sector had been attempting to get back on its feet post-lockdown in a year where cinemas have faced repeated lockdowns and seen major money-making movies including Daniel Craig’s final Bond, No Time To Die, repeatedly pushed back.
Operators had already bowed to studio pressure and agreed to shorten the “window” for showing films exclusively in cinemas.
The news that, in the US, Warner Bros’ 2021 big hitters - including The Matrix 4 and the Suicide Squad sequel - are to launch on home-viewing service HBO Max on the same day as on the silver screen saw American theatre chains AMC Entertainment and Cinemark both fall heavily last night.
Cineworld, the world’s second-largest operator with 787 cinemas worldwide, saw stocks down by 9% this morning, while the high-end Everyman saw its shares dip by around 12% in early trading. It came less than two weeks after Cineworld secured nearly £560 million in liquidity to get it through the pandemic.
UK operators will see less of an immediate blow, as the Warner Bros releases - including this month's pre-Christmas hope Wonder Woman 1984 - will still be cinema-screened only.
It is also unclear whether Disney and other studios will follow Warner Bros’ lead with their 2021 releases, and Warner's move is not necessarily permanent.
Phil Clapp, the chief executive of the UK Cinema Association told the Standard: “The overwhelming majority of our members believe that a significant period of theatrical exclusivity remains important not just for cinema operators, but more importantly for audiences, ensuring that they will continue to be able to enjoy films on the big screen, their natural home.”
Ann Sarnoff, chair and chief executive of WarnerMedia Studios, said the pandemic called for "creative solutions".
She said: "No one wants films back on the big screen more than we do.. but we have to balance this with the reality that most theatres in the US will likely operate at reduced capacity throughout 2021."