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WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar insists his studio won’t abandon exclusive releases of tentpole pics at the local theater, but will also produce 10 movies next year exclusively for HBO Max to drive subscriber growth at the streaming service.
“The motion picture format absolutely matters,” Kilar told analysts on an AT&T earnings call as he returned to a familiar theme for WarnerMedia: The studio will release certain epic tentpoles at the local multiplex, even as shorter windows and day-and-date releases in theaters and on HBO Max becomes the new normal post-pandemic.
He highlighted the box office success of Godzilla vs. Kong, which earned $462 million in theaters, as evidence that big event films still play well at the multiplex. “And so clearly some pictures matter and will continue to matter when it comes to the actual exhibition,” Kilar added.
But, he said, other movies appeal to consumers when screening in the home via HBO Max. WarnerMedia has talked about a 45-day theatrical window starting in 2022 as the industry comes out of its pandemic-era disruption. Kilar told analysts the industry was not “going back to the way the world was in 2015, 2016 or 2017 where windows were quite lengthy between theatrical and home exhibition.”
The WarnerMedia chief also revealed Warner Bros. will produce around 10 movies that will be available exclusively on HBO Max “on day one” in 2022. No details were disclosed about what those titles may be.
Kilar said that WarnerMedia’s distribution strategy for Warner Bros. movies will “continue to evolve and continue to innovate in ways that not only work with consumers and fans, but also work for our business partners.”
Andy Forssell, executive vp and general manager, WarnerMedia Direct-to-Consumer, also argued that windows have changed, with industry players likely to continue experimenting. “Obviously, 2022 will be a new year for film. Everyone is going to be experimenting with windows, they are going to get shorter, not longer, in terms of being able to see movies sooner,” he told THR in a post-earnings call interview. “We have learned so much this year about how to use film and episodic together to really engage people and drive higher retention.”
Explained Forssell: “We’re still in the middle of a bit of a shadow from the COVID production shutdowns last summer and fall. And it’s true for all of our peers as well. The industry’s in the same boat there. But that is going to abate later this year for everybody. You’re going to see current content come back. Our fourth quarter alone — the list of titles is pretty crazy. Despite those limitations, we had a great combination of day-and-date films and episodic content that was fantastic. There were five of the day-and-day Warner Bros. films. That’s a tremendous asset. Consumers responded well, but the interplay of those with episodic content, we had Mare of Easttown, Hacks and the Friends reunion all within the quarter and all got nominated for Emmys. And we saw, release date after release date, people would come in for the movies, and they would stay to watch series after series after series. Ultimately, I think that’s what keeps them around in the long haul. But the interplay between those types of content has been fantastic.”
And 2022 is also shaping up strongly for HBO Max, the executive said. “[HBO content chief] Casey Bloys and team — he is now driving not just HBO but all of HBO Max — are the best in the business, they are fantastic,” Forssell noted. “And they have got so much coming later this year, a bunch of the big HBO shows are coming back in the fourth quarter. We got Succession, Insecure and Curb Your Enthusiasm. We have got The Sex Lives of College Girls from Mindy Kaling, … the next chapter of Sex and the City. It is going to be a great year for content, and then 2022 will be even more so. We have already announced House of the Dragon, Peacemaker from James Gunn in the DC Universe. The next year is going to be fantastic for viewers, and we have got to keep experimenting.”
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