“There’s this little thing called Harry Potter, which is one of the most beloved franchises. And we’re incredibly thankful to be able to partner with J.K. Rowling and so I would argue there’s a lot of fun and potential there as well,” Kilar told the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecommunications Conference during a session that was webcast.
Kilar did not elaborate on what those development plans might be, but recent speculation has pointed to Warner Bros. looking to expand the famed film franchise by putting a Harry Potter live-action TV series in early development at HBO Max.
And on the movie front, there’s talk Warner Bros. could be developing a new tentpole based on the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child stage play. Discussion about possible sequels for Harry Potter — whose rights Warner Bros. controls along with creator J.K. Rowling — came as Kilar was talking about the creative fortunes going forward for Warner Bros.
And that trajectory continues to be bound up with HBO Max as WarnerMedia parent AT&T has placed a big bet on streaming with its direct-to-consumer offering. Kilar pointed to HBO and HBO Max now standing at a combined 41.5 million subscribers to date, well ahead of projections.
“It’s early days, but given my experience in the industry, we are so far ahead of pretty much any metric, whether it’s engagement, usage-per-day, our absolute number of subscribers,” Kilar said as HBO Max gets set to launch in Latin America in June.
He also addressed fears the HBO brand could be diluted in favor of volume of programming to get HBO Max to scale globally. “What we need to do is continue to hold that quality bar incredibly high and expand our sensibilities,” Kilar said as he pointed to recent HBO Max series like The Flight Attendant as broadening the audience for the streaming platform while curating excellence.
And Kilar addressed inserting advertising into a cheaper version of HBO Max. “It turns out that most people on this planet are not wealthy. If we can wake up and use price and be able to kind of invent and do things elegantly through advertising to reduce the price of the service, I think that’s a fantastic thing for fans,” he argued.
Kilar also talked about the comprehensive reorganization at the studio to allow WarnerMedia studios to become pipelines to its networks, especially HBO Max, rather than wholesalers of content. “We’ve been in a business that’s largely been defined by wholesaling, by licensing to others. And that’s a good business. But I can tell you what’s a better business, which is when you get to scale on a global basis with owner economics, and you’re able to both produce and develop and distribute where you’re in control. That’s a better business,” Kilar argued.
And when asked about how WarnerMedia will handle theatrical releases and other windows post-pandemic, Kilar said he agreed with Disney CEO Bob Chapek telling the Morgan Stanley conference two days earlier that he anticipated shorter theatrical-to-home release windows.
“I do tend to agree with Bob Chapek when he says it’s hard to imagine going back to 2015 in terms of the windows that existed for theatrical and everything that happened afterwards,” Kilar said. But he quickly added there was an industry consensus on moving forward with theatrical releases and expanding streaming options.
“I think people appreciate and understand that, and at the end of the day, it’s about putting the seeds in place for a very healthy and robust business that can last for another 100 years,” Kilar added. But on how that balance between theatrical windows and premium video-on-demand platforms will shake out before an industry standard can be agreed upon, the WarnerMedia chief said it was too early to say.
“It’s so dynamic. People are absolutely experimenting,” Kilar told the investors conference, while indicating more visibility would likely emerge later this year.