David Zaslav has spent a lot of time in the past year studying the movie business. Now that he’s taken the reins of Warner Bros. Discovery, he’s less and less inclined “to really collapse the entire motion picture business on streaming.”
Zaslav’s remarks came Tuesday morning during Discovery’s Q1 earnings call with Wall Street analysts. Zaslav was pressed about how they intend to manage the theatrical business following two years of unprecedented pandemic-related disruptions.
Last year, WarnerMedia sent all of Warner Bros. new film releases to HBO Max as a day-and-date releases with theatrical. This year, Warner Bros. has pulled back on that for mega tentpole releases such as “The Batman,” which scored at the box office earlier this year.
Zaslav and Warner Bros. Discovery’s new management team are focused on building out HBO Max as a global direct-to-consumer platform. But Zaslav’s observations made it clear he is not looking to impose any radical shifts in the tradition of movies having a first-run exclusive theatrical release before being available on any other platform.
To the question of whether the movie business needs a radical shakeup of windowing, Zaslav said flatly, “The data is starting to show ‘No way.’ “
Those remarks were no doubt welcome by the exhibition community as industry insiders gather this week in Las Vegas for the CinemaCon conference.
Zaslav pointed to the traditional path that movies take after the exhibition window as being worthy of maintaining.
“When you open a movie in theaters, it has a whole stream of monetization. More importantly, it’s marketed. It builds a brand so when it does go to a streaming service there’s a view that (the title) has a higher quality that benefits the streaming service.”
Zaslav noted “The Batman,” which bowed last month and has so far generated more than $700 million at the box office worldwide, has also performed well since the title debuted on HBO Max and in premium VOD on April 18.
”’The Batman’ did extremely well in generating viewership and interest even though it was in movie theaters first,” Zaslav said. “It’s a great sign for the motion picture business.”
Zaslav also emphasized that the theatrical experience itself is unique and valuable. And being one of only a handful of Hollywood studios that can open a movie around the world pays dividends in the creative community.
“You’re with other people, it’s that big screen. It’s magic,” Zaslav said. Moreover, Warner Bros.’ commitment to preserving in the exclusive theatrical exhibition window helps the studio “attract the greatest and most compelling talent.”