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Jeff Bewkes Discusses 'Green Lantern's' Underperformance

Green Lantern
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Even though the superhero film fell "fairly far short" of expectations, the Time Warner CEO says a sequel will be decided upon in "due course."

NEW YORK - Time Warner chairman and CEO Jeff Bewkes was clear when asked on a conference call Wednesday how he felt about the box office performance of Green Lantern, the June release from the conglomerate's film studio that disappointed.

"It did not live up to expectations - fell fairly far short of those," Bewkes said. Still, he didn't rule out a sequel at this point, saying that he was not in a position to tell at this time if there will be one. "We will be deciding that in due course," he said. Sources had previously told The Hollywood Reporter that Warner Bros. was not giving up on a sequel.

Among factors that led to a lower second-quarter film profit, TW earlier on Wednesday had cited "higher theatrical film valuation adjustments" due predominantly to Green Lantern's underperformance. Later in the day, TW in a regulatory filing provided some more detail on the adjustments, saying they amounted to "$50 million as a result of revisions to estimates of ultimate revenue for certain theatrical films."

Bewkes, however, calmed Wall Street concerns about TW's plans to use superhero films from its DC arm to fill the void that will be left after the final film in the Harry Potter franchise. "I'm not concerned about DC's strategy," Bewkes emphasizing, predicting that it will be "a major contributor" of hits and franchises in the future. He pointed to a planned Superman film and next year's latest Batman release as upcoming projects. 

On Wednesday's call, Bewkes was also confronted with Wall Street concerns that TW hasn't done big  library content deals yet with digital distributors. Some deals by competitors "undervalued [content] or reduced the lifetime value streams," he suggested.

Bewkes pointed out that TW has already sold select content to Netflix and has "ongoing discussions" with all digital players, such as Apple, Amazon.com and Netflix about possible deals for TV series and movies. He didn't want to provide a time frame for a deal though, describing his company's approach as "vigorous" and "eager to maximize value" and add to the lifetime value of content.

Evercore Partners analyst Alan Gould said before the earnings call that "one would anticipate TW would be teeing off a similar deal shortly" after Netflix and Amazon deals by the likes of CBS and NBCUniversal.

Bewkes shared that he wouldn't emphasize price as the biggest and only problem, signaling that windowing decisions are also a key focus. Deep library shows are best for the likes of Netflix, including for serialized shows that don't play too well in cable syndication, Bewkes said. But in most cases, digital video distributors are not the right outlet for newer, higher-value programming.

Asked what content tends to be hurt by expanding online video options, Bewkes reiterated his stance that hit shows are not affected, but "mediocre stuff loses."

In that context, Bewkes on Wednesday also promised that new TV syndication deals struck by TW's Turner networks for such shows as The Big Bang Theory for TBS and The Mentalist for TNT will refresh his cable channel unit's program mix. "We don't really see fatigue" of hit shows going into syndication due to online availability of TV shows, he said, but argued that older shows had affected ratings momentum. 

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com

Twitter: @georgszalai