Justice League Snyder Cut is a Missed Opportunity for HBO Max

Deepak Gupta
Deepak Gupta January 22, 2022
Updated 2022/01/22 at 5:59 AM

Justice League Snyder Cut – the highly anticipated four-hour director’s cut of Justice League from director Zack Snyder, assembled from hours of unused footage – will finally be released this Thursday, March 18, worldwide. It became a reality primarily thanks to a social media campaign dedicated to fans that lasted for years — one that resulted in a mountain of vitriol for anyone who offered the most remote critique of Snyder’s approach to superhero movies. The other (bigger financial) reason was the existence of HBO Max, a little-known streaming service owned by WarnerMedia, an American entertainment giant that also owns Justice League studio Warner Bros., which in turn owns DC Comics.

In May of last year, a week before its US release, HBO Max announced that it would make the Justice League Snyder Cut – then considered a dream and a mythical thing that existed in the minds of DC fans (and on Snyder’s laptop as a work in progress) — actually happen. For HBO Max, it was a way of proclaiming that it wasn’t just listening to fans, but willing to meet their demands. To that end, HBO Max would end up pumping $70 million (about 508 million rupees) to help Snyder finish his version of the film. In return, it hopes to generate good faith for HBO Max, the “exclusive” home of the Justice League Snyder Cut. Essentially, it was a marketing tactic to gain more subscribers.

Justice League Snyder Cut Review: Super Ambitious, Weird and Forgiving

And the boy needs them. According to the latest figures available, HBO Max had more than 17.2 million active paying subscribers at the end of 2020 – in what is approximately a seven-month period. On the other hand, Disney+ has amassed more than 50 million subscribers in five months. Of course, the pricing is entirely different (HBO Max is more than twice the price of Disney+, but its back catalog is also twice that of Disney+) and Disney has benefited from Hotstar’s existing subscriber base in India. But most importantly for HBO Max, it has struggled to convert all of HBO’s existing subscribers (over 37.7 million) to HBO Max, even if none of them have to pay anything extra. That says a lot about the value of a service (or lack of awareness).

HBO Max certainly doesn’t lack for big names, mind. Naturally, it has all the content that HBO has to offer. This includes Game of Thrones, The Wire and The Sopranos – some of the best TV shows of all time. Thanks to ownership by WarnerMedia, HBO Max offers some of the most popular TV shows, from Friends to The Big Bang Theory. Plus, it has some of the biggest films of all time from sister company Warner Bros., in The Dark Knight trilogy, The Matrix and The Lord of the Rings. And to attract even more new subscribers, HBO Max is launching Warner Bros. ‘ 2021 theatrical releases of Godzilla vs. Kong to Suicide Squad, same day as theaters – no additional cost.

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Sophie Turner as Sansa Stark in Game of Thrones
Photo credit: Helen Sloan/HBO

You’d think that a streaming service with such a pedigree and willingness to break away from the traditional theatrical model (thus earning Christopher Nolan’s ire) wouldn’t have so much trouble getting subscribers. Just for comparison – if you wanted to access all of the above in India, you would need all of Netflix, Disney+ Hotstar, and Amazon Prime Video. And even then, you wouldn’t have access to any of the theatrical movies at home. If HBO Max doesn’t exist in a market (which currently means every country except the US), Warner Bros. An increasingly less safe option as India is rapidly seeing a second wave of COVID-19.

Everything you need to know about the Justice League Snyder Cut

HBO Max’s lack of international presence is also affecting the release of the Justice League Snyder Cut. In territories where HBO has a streaming service (and other select markets), the Justice League Snyder Cut will be available via a subscription-based model. But in most parts of the world, the Justice League Snyder Cut will only exist on video on demand. In India, it will be available on March 18 on Apple TV (formerly iTunes Movies), BookMyShow Stream, Google Play/YouTube Movies, Hungama Play and Tata Sky. This means that you will have to pay for the movie directly – you can choose to rent or buy it – as you would while watching a movie in theaters.

To me, that sounds like a missed opportunity. On the one hand, you have HBO Max, a new subscriber-hungry platform. On the other hand, you have the Justice League Snyder Cut, arguably the hottest property in fandom right now. This was the perfect time for HBO Max to go global. (He had 10 months to prepare for this and sort out the licensing issues for Friends, The Dark Knight, and everything in between.) Justice League Snyder Cut could have been the perfect gateway for millions of new subscribers. Instead, HBO Max is allowing fans of the Justice League Snyder Cut to become a one-time customer, when it could have invited them into a whole new world if it were part of a subscription.

There’s also a little India-specific issue amid this: the video-on-demand strategy remains entirely unproven in India. It makes a negligible contribution to movie revenue, which is why India’s theatrical model has short-circuited: movies go straight from theaters to streaming. But this is not the case with the subscription model. Disney+, the only one to reveal India-specific numbers, grew from 8 million last April to 28 million paid subscribers in February. In fact, 30% of Disney+’s global subscriber base is from India, although most of them are likely onboard for cricket action or local soap operas and reality shows. But it’s having enough success to dub Marvel shows into Hindi, Tamil and Telugu. In the meantime, Snyder Cut will not have local language versions.

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Anthony Mackie as The Falcon, Sebastian Stan as The Winter Soldier in The Falcon and The Winter Soldier
Photo credit: Chuck Zlotnick/Marvel Studios

Worth it, HBO Max has he said which will launch in 60 more countries by the end of 2021 — 39 territories in Latin America and the Caribbean at the end of June and another 21 markets in Europe in the second half of the year. In fact, Justice League Snyder Cut will be released on HBO Max in Latin America and the Caribbean, which means most DC fans will have to wait three months to officially catch it. Seen from this perspective, the Snyder Cut’s video-on-demand release could actually be a good thing. At least we’re getting it on time – and not being tricked into piracy. Thankfully, Warner Bros. isn’t doing a Disney+ with The Mandalorian, whose first season was limited to five countries at premiere.

Watch the final trailer for Justice League Snyder Cut

Justice League’s Snyder Cut may have grown out of the need to grow HBO Max, but by letting it debut off-platform, it’s putting fans first. For something that exists virtually because of their voices, this is apt.

Orbital, the Gadgets 360 podcast, has a double bill this week: the OnePlus 9 series and the Justice League Snyder Cut (from 25:32). Orbital is available at Apple podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and wherever you get your podcasts.

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