'Tenet' won't skip theaters for a VOD or streaming premiere

AT&T CEO John Stankey said the movie won't debut on HBO Max.

Warner. Bros Pictures

Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi/spy movie Tenet has been delayed several times due to the impact of COVID-19 on movie theaters. It’s back on the shelf for now and a new release date has yet to be confirmed, but don’t expect Warner Bros. to simply throw up its hands and send the blockbuster straight to HBO Max or video on demand. That’s not going to happen, but it might for other Warner Bros. movies.

“Do I think that there could be some things that we had originally chartered and built for theatrical release that maybe migrate into an SVOD [subscription video on demand] construct? Sure, I think that could occur,” John Stankey, the new CEO of Warner Bros. parent company AT&T, said on an earnings call (via The Wrap). “Is it going to happen on a movie like Tenet or something like Wonder Woman 1984? I’d be very surprised if that would be the case. In fact, I can assure you on Tenet that’s not going to be the case.”

“I think theatrical still has an absolute important role moving forward,” Stankey added. “There is just some content that is going to be more enjoyable and better to see in theaters than in the living room.”

He noted that, like everyone else, he doesn’t know when movie theaters will reopen — AMC just delayed its reopenings from the end of this month to at least a few weeks later. The longer the pandemic persists, “there is going to be some content on the margins we look at and say it may be better served to be distributed in another construct or a different construct,” Stankey said.

Recent reports suggested that Warner Bros. may give Tenet a staggered release by country and even by city, depending on where local health officials determine it’s safe to open theaters back up. It’s still listed on the Warner Bros. site as “only in theaters.”

Several other big movies have skipped theaters for a streaming release in recent months, including Disney’s Artemis Fowl and Hamilton. Some other studios have adopted the approach of releasing films in cinemas and on home rental on the same day. It just emerged, for instance, that Bill & Ted Face the Music will have a simultaneous digital and theatrical release on September 1st.

Meanwhile, AT&T touched on HBO Max subscriber numbers in its earnings report, but instead of giving a hard figure on those, it combined HBO Max and HBO membership. It says the two platforms had a combined subscriber base of 36.3 million by the end of June. That’s an increase of 34.6 million subscribers since December, and only HBO was available at that time. The company launched HBO Max on May 27th.