Neil Landau teaches the first cohort of MFA Film students. (Photo: Sarah Freeman).

Neil Landau says movies premiering on streaming services will have lasting business ramifications

Warner Brothers recently announced it will premiere 2021 movies on the HBO Max streaming platform at the same time the films release in theaters.

The groundbreaking business decision affects distribution of many films created here in Georgia. We asked asked Neil Landau, associate professor in EMST and director of screenwriting for the MFA Film program, about the ramifications of this announcement and what it means in regard to evolving viewer habits.

Landau teaches a class at the beginning of the Fall 2020 semester. (Photo: Sarah Freeman).

“This is a sea change that will have lasting, if not permanent, repercussions on the movie business — from P&A (prints and advertising) and distribution to exhibition and all-important opening weekend box office tallies,” Landau said.

He says home streaming offers advantages and access to some productions that audiences may not have previously had.

“Depending on the post Covid-19 economic rebound, I believe streaming movies at home is here to stay,” said Landau. ” Not only is it much cheaper for those on a budget, it’s also more convenient and offers more global choices.”

The relationship between movie theaters and streaming services will continue to be defined and Landau says there are some critical questions that must be answered through audience behavior.

“Can both cinemas and movies-on-demand streaming at home co-exist?  Will people, who have mainly been staying home to avoid contagion, be compelled to return to the communal movie-going experience,” Landau questioned.

“My hunch is that while the communal experience of cinema will survive, many movie megaplexes will downsize or go out of business (tantamount to book stores and shopping malls in the age of Amazon Prime),” Landau said.

Like all industries that rely on people gathering, Landau says the new landscape must be defined through the public response to medical breakthroughs as COVID-19 treatments are administered. However, he says many of the business decisions are made because streaming profits benefit movie studio groups too.

“We already had signs of what I call “Digital Darwinism,” but Covid-19 has made it impossible for movie theaters to compete,” Landau said. “Once we have a vaccine and we get the economy back on track, it’s anyone’s guess.  We all know for certain that sports will remain huge.  Ditto for video games.  But movies on-demand at home and relatively inexpensive monthly streaming subscriptions are not the competition for the major studios because they own or have a stake in most of these streaming platforms.”

“You could look at HBO Max’s decision to collapse theatrical windows as cannibalizing their own business —until you realize that they’re profiting from increasing their HBO Max subscriptions exponentially,” said Landau. “And a monthly subscription fee and access to customer data are both gifts that keep on giving, not dependent on what’s opening at the movie theater.”

Learn more about the UGA MFA Film program at: mfafilm.uga.edu.

Date: December 11, 2020
Author:  Dayne Young,  dayne@uga.edu