Entrepreneurs

With Space Jam, Warner Brothers Did Something Brilliant. It May Change the Movie Industry Forever

Over the past several weeks, my son has been begging me to watch Space Jam: A New Legacy. Typically, this wouldn’t be a big ask, as I’m a huge basketball fan and have fond memories of watching the original Space Jam starring Michael Jordan, almost 25 years ago.

I say typically, though, because my family–like many other families I know–haven’t been to a movie theater in over a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

So you might be surprised to learn that we actually watched Space Jam as a family this weekend. That was pretty big news for us–but not because we put on masks and braved the cinema.

It’s news because we did something we’ve never done before: watch a potential blockbuster film on its opening weekend–from the comfort of our living room.

With this film, I think Warner Brothers and HBO Max just cracked a code. They revealed a fundamental truth that could potentially change the movie industry as we know it:

When it comes to blockbuster, family-friendly films, there isn’t just one target audience. 

How Warner Brothers and HBO have changed the game

Space Jam: A New Legacy isn’t the first film Warner Brothers has released in theaters and on HBO Max on the same day. But it has potential to be the biggest and make the most money for multiple reasons. 

Besides its family-friendly appeal, Space Jam is launching at a time when more Americans are vaccinated than ever. That means that after more than a year of avoiding crowds, more people are braving public areas like movie theaters, in an attempt to return to normalcy.

However, that doesn’t describe everyone. Other families, like my own, are more comfortable playing it safe. Despite beginning the vaccination process, it will be a long time before I’m ready to go to a movie theater again. 

In fact, even before the pandemic, I’ve found myself hesitant to go to the movie theater, just because of the costs. As a budget minded father, I’d much prefer to watch a movie in the comforts of my own home, rather than spend between $50 and $100 for tickets, popcorn, nachos, and soda.

Of course, there are tons of people who are perfectly willing to spend that money, people who think a $10 tub of popcorn is actually worth it, because it contributes to the “movie experience”–something you just can’t get at home, regardless of the size of your home theater. 

And this is what Warner Brothers has figured out, before all of the other production companies.

Space Jam actually has two target audiences:

  • The movie-theater lovers
  • The watch-from-home crowd

You might think this is a simple conclusion, but it’s not. 

We know this because other film producers have been hesitant to follow the same strategy, afraid that they’re going to cannibalize sales or somehow destroy the traditional box office. For that reason, they’ve put countless film releases on hold, waiting for the pandemic to end, so things can return to “normal.”

But those producers have failed to understand that by standing frozen in time, they’ve missed a major opportunity. They could have been forging forward, using their assets to leverage new deals, ones that target both audiences. 

In contrast, Warner Brothers put themselves in position to take advantage of a “perfect storm”–the launch of a family-friendly film at a time that would maximize both ticket sales and HBO Max (streaming) signups. Additionally, they can return to a (semi) normal production schedule, allowing them to continue to produce new content that consumers are hungry for.

The interesting thing is, until Space Jam, I had zero interest in HBO Max. We already subscribe to Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney Plus…and most of the content on HBO Max really doesn’t appeal to me.

But because HBO Max was the only place we could watch the movie my son’s been begging for, I was happy to sign up for a month–with full intentions of canceling my subscription once that month is up. After all, $14.99 is a small price to pay for a family of five to watch a first-run movie at home, which is what I’d prefer anyway–and it’s miniscule compared to what we would have paid in the theater.

So, with this strategy, Warner Brothers and HBO not only got business from everyone who would have gone to the movies anyway. They also got business from customers like me: persons who wouldn’t have gone to the theater, and would never have signed up for HBO Max.

Lessons for every business

Regardless of the size of your business, there’s a major lesson you can learn from this strategy.

When faced with unusual circumstances, you can’t pause for too long. You can’t just wait it out, hoping for things to return to the way they used to be. 

You have to come up with new ideas. 

You have to experiment. 

Because when you “run the experiment,” you’ll discover things that few people would have ever predicted. 

I guess it’s true what they say after all:

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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