Warner Bros. made a surprise announcement Thursday -- it's pushing the release of its Harry Potter sequel, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince from November 11 to July 17, 2009.
That's eight months -- leaving Warner Bros. without its holiday season tentpole!
This is huge: it will impact Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX) earnings, and it'll also help other films coming out in November. Warner Bros. is attributing the change to the writers strike.
Alan Horn, Warners' president says the strike slowed down script development, leaving holes in 2009. Horn says in a statement, "We agreed the best strategy was to move 'Half-Blood Prince' to July, where it perfectly fills the gap for a major tentpole release for mid-summer."
But Pali Research analyst Rich Greenfield says this move is to help Time Warner hit its targets. Greenfield writes:
"We believe TWX is shifting the film to help it achieve earnings expectations in 2008 (moving expensive P & A out of Q4 2008, at the same time that several successful films are set to hit DVD for Warner)."
Greenfield also points out how this will help the rest of the landscape, opening up the playing field for Dreamworks Animation's (NASDAQ:DWA) Madagascar 2, which opens on November 7, and Disney's (NYSE:DIS) November 21 debut of Bolt.
"Harry Potter" is a tremendous franchise for Warner Bros., and this shift is a testament to the long-term impact of the writers' strike. It also demonstrates the relative extremes studios and media companies are willing to go to to hit Wall Street targets. Trailers for the film are already running, and the studio says post-production is finished, so it's really about delaying the costs of the release.