After originally being planned for an exclusive HBO Max release sometime this year, Warner Bros. Discovery made the shocking choice to completely pull the already shot Batgirl film from its calendar. A statement from the company following the decision said shelving Batgirl was a reflection of a “strategic shift as it relates to the DC universe and HBO Max”. Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav revealed more about that shift in the company’s Q2 earnings call, saying WBD’s new regime has a “different view” on releasing films direct to streaming, and is instead opting to focus on the theatrical experience:
“We will fully embrace the attributes as we believe it creates interest and demand provides a great marketing tailwind, and generates word of mouth buzz as films transition to streaming and beyond.”
Instead of producing films which will be sent straight to HBO Max, Zaslav would rather see WBD put its resources into creating movies that will be successful at the box office. The new Warners boss is hoping that if the studio is able to put out films that are major hits, they will be an even greater asset for HBO Max once they begin streaming. For example, WBD can lay claim to one of the biggest movies of the year in The Batman, which grossed $767 million worldwide.
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Since the film was such a hit, having HBO Max be its exclusive streaming home has the potential to drive a great number of subscribers to the service. The same can be said for Elvis, which has worked its way to a $237 million worldwide gross off a reported $85 million budget. Not only is the film a financial success for WBD, but it will provide additional value once it arrives on HBO Max.
Zaslav’s Vision for HBO Max is the Complete Opposite to Jason Kilar’s
The philosophy of Zaslav is in stark contrast to that of former Warner Bros. CEO Jason Kilar, who stepped down from the role in April before WarnerMedia officially merged with Discovery, Inc. HBO Max was launched in May 2020, and Kilar’s primary goal was to build the service up to be competitive with platforms like Netflix, Disney+, and Hulu. One of the biggest decisions Kilar made to try and draw in subscribers was to release the entirety of the 2021 Warner Bros. film slate day-and-date in theaters and on HBO Max. Kilar was hoping that the ability to see Godzilla vs. Kong, Mortal Kombat, The Suicide Squad, or Dune right away at home would help grow the HBO Max subscriber count in short order. While the service was able to pull in more than 50 million subscribers, the strategy was ultimately a net negative due to the damage that was done to Warner Bros. theatrical business.
Now that Zaslav has taken the reins of WBD, the new CEO is not only hoping to avoid Kilar’s mistakes, but refocus on the theatrical model in a big way. Instead of making middle of the road films like Batgirl exclusively for streaming, Zaslav would rather create high profile blockbusters like Black Adam and Shazam! Fury of the Gods for worldwide audiences. It’s a move that makes sense on paper, but it’s hard to not feel for Leslie Grace, Adil El Arbi, Bilall Fallah, and all of the other creatives who worked hard to make Batgirl a quality film. With a clear, stated mission statement from Zaslav, WBD should hopefully be able to avoid axing any further films as it actualizes its actualize new strategy.