Watching This Week #112
Listings for May 29 to June 4, 2023; Corus channels appear set to leave Eastlink.
The movie starring Anne Hathaway is now available to watch at home in Canada, a few months after it was released elsewhere.
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Roald Dahl's The Witches, starring Anne Hathaway, Octavia Spencer, and Stanley Tucci, is a 2020 remake of the 1990 film based on the 1983 children's novel. It was originally intended to be released in movie theatres on October 9, 2020 by Warner Bros. Pictures, but by June 2020 it had been pulled from the release schedule entirely due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Following a streaming release on HBO Max in the United States in October, Warner Bros. originally planned to stick with a release in Canadian theatres as opposed to a similar move to streaming. However, the release got moved back multiple times. Ultimately, WB released the movie in Canada, both through theatres (where permitted to be open) and as a premium video-on-demand (PVOD) rental (for an initial suggested price of $29.99), on Friday, December 25, 2020.
As of this update in early April 2021, The Witches is now available for "regular" digital rental, with most providers offering it for about $6.99 for a 48-hour rental, or $12.99 for a digital purchase. It also continues to be available in some theatres. The full list of theatres, digital retailers, and TV service on-demand providers where The Witches is currently available is on the Warner Bros. Canada website, and includes the following:
After pulling The Witches off its theatrical schedule in June, on October 2, Warner Bros. announced a new plan: The Witches would instead be released on its sibling streaming service, HBO Max, at no additional cost for subscribers to that service, starting Thursday, October 22. However, since HBO Max is currently only available in the United States, and since cinemas have reopened in much of the rest of the world, Warner Bros. said as part of the same announcement that The Witches would be released in theatres "internationally beginning [Wednesday] October 28".
While Warner Bros. never officially announced a Canadian release date, Cineplex and Landmark, the two biggest circuits serving English Canada, initially indicated that The Witches would begin playing in Canadian theatres on Friday, November 20, 2020 (thanks to Twitter reader Ryan D. for pointing us to this information). With increased restrictions in much of Canada, Warner apparently had a change of heart shortly before that date, and Cineplex pulled the marketing page from its website at that point.
On December 11, Warner Bros. finally confirmed that The Witches will be released in Canada both in theatres and on premium video-on-demand (PVOD) on Friday, December 25. As announced a studio press release, the initial suggested rental price was $29.99.
While Crave carries most programs branded as "Max Originals" at the same time as HBO Max through its partnership with WarnerMedia, The Witches was an exception. However, Crave has subsequently confirmed that it will make The Witches available to stream on Friday, June 25, 2021, as part of its Movies + HBO tier (the version of Crave that costs a total of about $20 per month)
Crave carries other HBO Max original programs in Canada, but because The Witches is still being released in Canadian theatres, this is not under Crave's output deals for HBO Max originals, but rather under a separate (though related) output arrangement that Crave has for Warner Bros. theatrical movies.
Bell Media's Crave streaming service (specifically the Movies + HBO tier, previously known as The Movie Network or TMN) has a longstanding output relationship with Warner Bros. for the first pay TV (or subscription streaming) window for theatrical films – sometimes called "pay-1" in the industry.
Essentially this means that for any film released theatrically by Warner Bros. in Canada, around eight to ten months later that film will become available on Crave, and moreover Crave will be the only pay TV or subscription streaming service (i.e., not including individual short-term rentals from stores like iTunes, Google Play or Amazon) carrying the English-language version of that film for an extended period. For most recent Warner Bros. films, Crave's exclusive window has typically lasted a year or more, followed immediately by a window on Netflix Canada for several more months.
To give one recent example, Warner Bros.' Crazy Rich Asians was released in Canadian cinemas on August 15, 2018. It was then made available on Crave on April 19, 2019 – about eight months later – and left the service on July 5, 2020, immediately moving to Netflix on July 6.
As a slightly more recent example, the Warner Bros.-released film Just Mercy arrived in North American theatres on December 25, 2019. It then became available on Crave on September 12, 2020 – just over eight months later.
We initially expected that The Witches would follow a similar pattern, meaning that based on the scheduled December 25, 2020 release date in Canada, it would probably arrive on Crave in late August or in September. However, as was the case with Wonder Woman 1984, Warner Bros. ultimately chose to move up the pay-1 availability, to June 25 as noted above.
Typically, based on the examples noted above, we would expect The Witches to then move to Netflix Canada in mid-to-late 2022. However, given the unique circumstances surrounding the film's release (including The Witches still being branded as an HBO Max Original on Crave), it's possible that the situation may be somewhat different.
In light of its longstanding relationship with WarnerMedia, it would be fair to ask why Crave would not end up with similar rights, and on a similar timeframe, to what HBO Max will be getting in the United States.
Warner Bros. hasn't commented on exactly why, but as best we can tell, there are two big factors that likely drove this decision.
One: Like other movie studios, Warner Bros. has historically made the largest chunk of its money for its movies from theatrical releases – in other words, getting people to go to a theatre and pay for tickets. Given how the public health situation has evolved differently in both Canada (where theatres in most areas have stayed open, though at reduced capacity, since the summer) and the United States (where some national chains are now temporarily closed again), it's not all that surprising that a few studios like WB and Paramount decided, at least in late summer in early fall, that it would be worthwhile trying to release in cinemas in Canada, even if they can't release nationwide in the U.S.
Two: Because HBO Max and Warner Bros. are part of a single company (AT&T / WarnerMedia), it's much simpler for the two divisions to work together on making a change like this on (apparently) a few weeks' notice. Moving a major release like The Witches might involve some money changing hands on paper between divisions, but ultimately the bulk of those funds (less required payouts to key personnel like the lead actors) would stay within AT&T.
On the other hand, if Crave had wanted to do something similar in Canada, whatever money would be involved would have to be transferred between Bell Media and WarnerMedia as part of a new agreement, and it'd take to time to negotiate so both sides were comfortable with the price of the deal.
And while growing HBO Max is a big priority for AT&T right now, growing a different company's service (even if it's allied, and not a direct competitor) is not. So AT&T is not going to go out of its way to give Bell a sweetheart deal. Yes, they have had some historical ties, but that's far in the rear view mirror now.
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