Sony says WarnerMedia's HBO Max gamble helped its movie business

Hollywood wants studios committed to theatrical releases, it seems.

REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

Directors aren’t thrilled about WarnerMedia’s decision to release every 2021 movie on HBO Max, and that’s proving to be good news for at least one rival. As The Verge reports, Sony Pictures chief Tony Vinciquerra told CNBC in an interview that his studio has enjoyed a “bit of a boom” from Hollywood creators who want a company devoted to movie theaters. The executive didn’t name talent, but did stress that Sony’s role as a theatrical distributor had “worked very well.”

WarnerMedia has been conscious of the backlash and even announced theater-first releases for a string of 2023 movies to reassure filmmakers worried it would shift its focus to streaming.

Sony doesn’t have much choice in the matter. Unlike WarnerMedia or Disney, it doesn’t have a streaming service of its own to support. It has to either sell movies to third-party services like Apple TV+ or offer titles for rent earlier than expected. Vinciquerra has argued for greater flexibility on the length of time a movie stays in theaters, though, contending that a poor performer should have the option of leaving theaters sooner while blockbusters stay longer.

The uptick in business may be as much of a gamble as WarnerMedia’s HBO Max strategy, though. Movie theater reopenings will depend heavily on the success of mass vaccinations, not to mention regaining the confidence of viewers unwilling to risk their health just to see a movie. If many theaters are still closed or faring poorly when summer movies like Uncharted arrive, Sony may have to scramble to offer digital alternatives where WarnerMedia already has them in place.