Universal Pictures will take over the distribution and marketing of Warner Bros. theatrical releases in Hong Kong and Macau from January 1, 2021 onwards. WarnerMedia is understood to be laying off around a dozen employees as part of the change.
A WarnerMedia regional spokesman in Singapore was unable to confirm or deny the information, though multiple industry sources have told Variety of the plans. They were also detailed in the Apple Daily newspaper. A Universal Pictures spokesman in Hong Kong also declined to comment.
“HBO, Turner and Warner Bros. still exist. They now operate as an integrated organization under WarnerMedia internationally,” the spokesman explained.
Hong Kong was wracked by civil unrest in the second half of 2019, prompting a government crackdown. In July this year authorities in Beijing injected a National Security Law into the territory’s mini constitution. It includes new controls on the press. Since then several media organizations have examined the feasibility of relocating staff to locations in Asia that are more press friendly.
But the Warner Bros. theatrical closure in Hong Kong is likely to be prompted more by the film releasing context and by WarnerMedia’s own consolidation. The spokesman said that “plenty of other people at WarnerMedia are still in Hong Kong including at the regional CNN bureau.” Other sources said that one of WarnerMedia’s two offices in Hong Kong was superfluous to requirements and that some of the theatrical-related marketing jobs would move to Singapore.
Since its acquisition by AT&T, Warnermedia has been restructuring in Asia and other regions. A recent management reshuffle in Asia was conducted under Clement Schwebig. It was noted at the time that the head of theatrical releasing in the region remains vacant.
It is understood a handful of Warner Bros. theatrical employees will remain until “Wonder Woman 1984” is released. But because of a recent surge in COVID-19 infections, the city’s cinemas have been forced to close for a third time. It is uncertain when the tentpole film will be released in Hong Kong. Current social distancing measures have been extended until Jan. 6, 2021.
Following the shift, the first Warner Bros. Pictures release to be handled by Universal Pictures in Hong Kong is expected to be crime thriller “The Little Things,” tentatively scheduled for the end of January, sources told Variety. It is expected to be followed by “Tom & Jerry.”