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AT&Ts HBO Max is the worst streaming service, director Christopher Nolan says – CNET

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Christopher Nolan at AFI Fest 2017 in Hollywood.


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Tenet director Christopher Nolan Monday condemned AT&T‘s plan to stream all Warner Bros.’ new movies through 2021 on HBO Max the same day they hit theaters. 

But on Tuesday, AT&T‘s CEO called backlash like Nolan’s “a lot of noise.” 

Nolan, who’s known for being especially protective of the theatrical experience for films, said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter that Warner Bros.’ strategy is dysfunctional and that it’ll batter the studio’s relationship with filmmakers and talent. 

“Some of our industry’s biggest filmmakers and most important movie stars went to bed the night before thinking they were working for the greatest movie studio and woke up to find out they were working for the worst streaming service,” he said. 

“Warner Bros. had an incredible machine for getting a filmmaker’s work out everywhere, both in theaters and in the home, and they are dismantling it as we speak. They don’t even understand what they’re losing. Their decision makes no economic sense and even the most casual Wall Street investor can see the difference between disruption and dysfunction.”

Nolan has kept a long-running relationship with Warner Bros., starting in 2005 with his film Batman Begins and continuing to his latest film, Tenet. But that sci-fi action thriller was the first Hollywood tentpole film to open in theaters in September after the pandemic shutdown, and in the US it was a flop. Tenet generated less than $60 million at the US box office; Nolan’s 2010 film Inception, by comparison, hauled in more than $290 million domestically. Tenet’s theaters-first release plan was hamstrung by shuttered theaters, capacity limits in cinemas that actually were open, and moviegoers’ underlying misgivings about the risks of going to watch a movie on the big screen at all. Tenet reportedly lost Warner Bros. as much as $100 million.

But Tuesday, AT&T Chief Executive John Stankey appeared unruffled by criticism like Nolan’s and defended the plan as being the best strategy in extraordinary circumstances. Both HBO Max and Warner Bros. are  owned by the telecom giant through its WarnerMedia entertainment unit. 

“I know there’s a lot of noise out there in the market that different people have different points of view,” Stankey said Tuesday, speaking at the UBS Global TMT Virtual conference.

“Fundamentally, one of the unfortunate effects of the pandemic is there basically has been no theatrical exhibition business. And that’s painful for a lot of people,” Stankey said. “Our feeling is there’s a win-win-win type of solution. There’s a win for us. There’s a win for our customers, and there’s a win for our partners. And anytime you’re going to change a model, it creates a degree of noise — and this is certainly no exception.”

WarnerMedia’s decision last week marked the latest in a series of titanic changes in movie releases caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Studios and cinemas have been experimenting with new release strategies that would’ve been inconceivable a year ago, especially for expensive films like Wonder WomanDune and The Matrix. But Warner Bros.’ decision to release an entire year of its film slate online at the same time as in theaters is the most seismic shift yet.

HBO Max, AT&T and WarnerMedia’s streaming service that launched in May, stumbled a bit out of the gate, as it struggled to get customers to understand the proposition of HBO Max and was hampered by failing to get its app on major streaming devices like Roku and Amazon Fire TV gadgets. 

Nolan has been vocal with his reaction to Warner Bros.’ decision, giving his indictment in an interview with ET.

“Oh, I mean, disbelief,” he said, describing his response. “Especially the way in which they did. There’s such controversy around it, because they didn’t tell anyone.”

“In 2021, they’ve got some of the top filmmakers in the world, they’ve got some of the biggest stars in the world who worked for years in some cases on these projects very close to their hearts that are meant to be big-screen experiences. They’re meant to be out there for the widest possible audiences … And now they’re being used as a loss-leader for the streaming service — for the fledgling streaming service — without any consultation.”

Nolan didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

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