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Is The Green Knight streaming event the answer to COVID box-office woes?
A24’s summer hit The Green Knight is taking a brief detour from its only-in-theaters rollout. As Hollywood continues to get creative about declining box-office revenue, the boutique distributor is trying something new with a one-day streaming option.
The Green Knight streaming event is one of many mixed-release strategies at the moment. Studios are understandably trying to recoup costs as viewers (also understandably) remain skittish about a return to the movies.
This whole process has been fraught. With mounting lawsuits, plateauing revenue, and fears that the public is being encouraged to take unnecessary risks, the state of film releasing is not pretty.
Has A24 cracked this one? Will The Green Knight streaming event be a winning formula? Here’s what’s at stake.
A new world for movie theaters
All industrial panic aside, it seems obvious COVID-19 is to blame for, well… all of this. And things will renormalize at least a bit when the pandemic is under control.
Movie theaters, especially indies, work with tight margins. And with ticket sales declining even before COVID, the precarity of the movie theater industry can’t be overstated. Many theaters have already closed their doors permanently.
A24 initially released The Green Knight exclusively in theaters to maintain a certain type of experience. But they’re also investing in their own future as a film distributor with The Green Knight’s theatrical release. The industry needs movie theaters as much as movie theaters need movies.
Now that the genie is out of the bottle, some of these same-day streaming approaches may stick around. If that’s the case, Hollywood will need to figure out what’s profitable and what’s not, both in the short term and in the long term.
The Green Knight streaming event
David Lowery’s epic fantasy based on the Arthurian legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight has been a massive summer hit. With a $3-million opening-day haul, it has been more than holding its own against much bigger, more mainstream titles.
In the middle of a pandemic, The Green Knight spells hope for the future of movies, no doubt. But it could be reaching more eyeballs. And A24 has a plan for that, making the film available online on August 18 only, for anyone who can’t — or won’t — go to the cinema.
The Green Knight streaming option is way more limited than anything we've seen so far.
The one-day Green Knight streaming event will make use of the company’s Screening Room platform. Unlike most digital rentals and purchases, the film will be available only during a four-hour window. For $20, American viewers will get to watch anytime between 6PM and 10PM PT. The stream also includes a bonus Q&A with members of the cast and crew.
It’s a fresh take. No one walks away “owning” the film. The price is steep, but cheaper than a pair of cinema tickets. People who want to go to the theater still can. A24 isn’t really competing with itself by offering such a tiny window. All in all, it’s pretty much win-win.
But we’ll have to wait and see how it goes.
The Disney model
A24 isn’t starting from scratch here. The Green Knight streaming event is just one approach among many.
Disney has made bold choices, allowing Disney Plus subscribers to watch films like Mulan, Cruella, Black Widow, and Jungle Cruise on the same day as they came out in theaters. These were “Premier Access” titles though. Subscribers would have to pay $30 per film on top of their monthly or annual subscription fees to have unlimited access to the premium titles.
Check out: Everything you can watch on Disney Plus
This release model, in theory, could allow Disney to make back some money while providing an incentive to subscribe to their streamer. And Disney has in fact beat analyst projections with its huge upswing in subscriptions.
Disney has opted out of releasing its latest movie, Free Guy on Premiere Access, and on the Marvel side, the company plans to keep Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings off the streamer too. So, maybe we’re reaching a point of diminishing returns.
Make it free to subscribers?
Warner Bros. has taken a more dramatic, arguably populist approach.
Rather than mix theatrical releases with exorbitantly priced VOD options, the company is offering its entire 2021 output on their streaming site HBO Max. So, every Warner Bros. film, from Godzilla Vs. Kong to The Suicide Squad to Dune is free to stream online on the same day it comes out.
Brand new movies are pretty good bait to lure in streaming customers.
Okay, so none of this is actually free. As with Disney, you do need a subscription to the HBO Max service. Since HBO Max is still a relatively new player in the streaming game, this is more than a COVID contingency. It’s also a way to boost subscription revenue. The 2021 movie slate is the bait, and it’s pretty enticing at that. When subscriptions plateau (and the pandemic is hopefully over), this won’t be much of a moneymaker for Warner. They may then need to reassess.
Is The Green Knight streaming event the way forward?
There’s no doubt big companies like Disney and Warner Bros. know what they’re doing. Even accounting for losses from individual films like Black Widow and The Suicide Squad, Disney Plus and HBO Max have seen a surge in subscriptions, no doubt thanks at least in part to hybrid releases.
But when the dust settles and subscriptions peak, then what? And what about smaller outfits like A24 — or Neon or Bleecker Street or Breaking Glass Pictures or Abramorama, etc.?
Limited, one-day streaming options may be the way forward. Certainly, smaller titles that don’t make it to all markets could use the boost from underserved audiences who still want to see indies.
I guess we’ll all see how The Green Knight streaming option pans out and go from there.