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Warner Bros. has no plans at the moment to change its 2022 theatrical release strategy, despite the delta and omicron variants of COVID-19 continuing to impact the movie business.
Warner Bros. CEO Ann Sarnoff, speaking at a conference hosted by Bloomberg on Wednesday, acknowledged that the theatrical business remains a “work in progress” but that its 2021 strategy of releasing movies in theaters and on HBO Max the same day is unlikely to be repeated next year, regardless of what happens with COVID.
“Have we thought about going back to day-and-date? Sure, we thought about it, but we have made our commitments to the theaters, to the agents, to the talent,” Sarnoff said. “Everyone was hoping we would be on the other side of the pandemic by now.”
Sarnoff added that older moviegoers, namely those over 35, remain the most hesitant about returning, while younger consumers are going to movies more readily. “For us to really get back in full swing, we need the broader spectrum of demographics and tastes,” Sarnoff said, adding that “big action-adventure movies,” superhero movies and horror movies seem to be driving the most theater ticket sales, for now.
“We are hoping by next spring, when we have The Batman release, that we will have much more full attendance,” she added.
In addition to the movie business, Sarnoff also discussed the competitive streaming landscape, which is being led by Netflix and Disney. Sarnoff argued that WarnerMedia’s offering, HBO Max, will be able to compete with the market leaders by having a more complete offering.
“I think that if you look at Netflix, you see a very big, four-quadrant, first-mover advantage,” Sarnoff said, noting Netflix’s approach to creating content for a wide range of viewers.
However, Netflix does not have major franchises. “They’re trying to acquire franchises,” Sarnoff said. “If you look at Disney+, you see a lot of franchises, but not a four-quadrant approach.”
“We have both,” she added, noting franchises from DC Comics and HBO, as well as kids programming, major movie releases and programming for men and women.
Sarnoff also discussed one of the company’s most important franchises: Harry Potter.
“We would love to develop more original Harry Potter series, and we regularly talk to J.K. Rowling and her team,” Sarnoff said. “It’s got to be right, though. Whatever we do has to be true to the canon, and true to the ethos of the Wizarding World and who Harry is.”
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