AT&T won’t release theatrical films same-day on HBO Max in 2022

AT&T will not release new feature films on HBO Max next year on the same day those films appear in movie theaters in the United States, breaking with a strategy that briefly saw the company simultaneously release new movies in theaters and online during the coronavirus health pandemic.

The move was confirmed by a Cineworld executive announcing a new, multi-year exclusive agreement between the company’s Regal Cinemas chain of movie theaters and AT&T concerning new movies released by Warner Bros. from 2022 onward.

“We are very happy for the agreement with Warner Bros.,” Mooky Greidinger, the chief executive of Cineworld, said. “This agreement shows the studio’s commitment to the theatrical business and we see this agreement as an important milestone in our 100-year relationship with Warner Bros.”

The announcement effectively means the end of AT&T’s simultaneous release of new films on HBO Max the same day those movies hit theaters in the United States. That strategy had been concocted by AT&T executives late last year, starting with the Christmas Day release of “Wonder Woman: 1984” followed by a new film release every two weeks until the end of the year.

The strategy did not sit well with some film directors, producers and other production personnel whose project salaries can sometimes be tied to how well a movie is received in theaters. AT&T executives promised those production crew members would be fairly compensated, but the new strategy still didn’t sit well with some.

AT&T is not the only one to experiment with releasing films direct to consumers: Comcast, the parent company of Universal Pictures, and the Walt Disney Company both sold new feature-length films through digital video rental services after the ongoing coronavirus health pandemic closed movie theaters.

Comcast and Disney each sold their films for roughly the same price of what consumers might reasonably expect to pay for a night out at the movies — candy and popcorn included, in Disney’s case.

But AT&T’s plan was more audacious: Where movie watchers had to pay a premium to stream Universal Pictures and Disney movies, AT&T offered their new feature-length films as part of a customer’s subscription to HBO Max, which costs $15 a month.

The strategy helped draw new viewers to HBO Max, and AT&T projects it will earn around 70 million worldwide subscribers to the streaming service by the end of the year.