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The executive, speaking at a Bank of America conference Thursday, said that while the company has made tough choices with regard to its content investment and strategy, the focus on what was supposed to be an HBO Max original film was pushed too far by media coverage, with Warners remaining committed to growing its content business.
“Clearly the course corrections, making changes quickly where we don’t agree with the track that WarnerMedia was on, that took a lot of courage and execution early,” Wiedenfels said, adding of Batgirl specifically: “I don’t think it is unusual. We are a creative industry, and one of the elements of creativity is that there is judgment and views on what the potential of what a certain piece of IP might be.”
Wiedenfels said that the company’s creative leaders like film chiefs Michael De Luca and Pamela Abdy make the calls on content decisions, but that “my team has helped them by providing financial data points where possible, and a framework to assess the potential from a financial perspective.”
He noted that while a lot of headlines are focusing on content as a source of cost savings, the company expects most of its synergies to be outside of content. WBD took an $825 million write-down on content in its last quarter, which didn’t account for Batgirl.
Going forward, Wiedenfels says that the company is spending more money than it ever has (when considering the combined spend of the two companies), though he added, “I am glad to see a more rational approach to content spend.
“We have made some course corrections, but we are in business to create content and tell fascinating stories, and we will fund that,” he added.
Wiedenfels also said that WBD CEO David Zaslav is still engaged in forging an overarching strategy, but that things are beginning to click.
“The first priority has been to get the team in place, and I think David has now established an almost complete, strong management team,” Wiedenfels said, adding that it took “a lot of courage to make decisions and quickly get the company on the track that we want to see it on.”
But there are also opportunities to be mined from the company’s trove of IP.
“I think there are a couple of clear priorities. DC stands out,” Wiedenfels said, alluding to the search for someone to lead the comic book brand’s empire. “As you know, David is still looking for someone to lead that, specifically. Wizarding World of Harry Potter has huge potential if we can get it right … There is a lot in flight, but clearly if you look at it from a risk and reward perspective, leveraging some of those existing brands improves your return profile.”
And looking further out, Wiedenfels showed signs of optimism and caution.
On the one hand, he said, “I think the opportunity is enormous, I view this as a Boeing 747 flying on one engine,” noting all of the potential options on the table.
But on the other hand, he said that financial data his team accessed after the merger did not align with some of what they had access to pre-merger, forcing an adjustment.
And he also noted that “there is uncertainty in the macroeconomic environment, no question about it.”
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