Warner Bros. Discovery executives would probably rather not hear about “Batgirl” again, let alone talk about it. But when you run a publicly traded corporation and are asked a question on a quarterly earnings call, you don’t have a choice.
On Thursday, after the company reported its second-quarter 2022 earnings, which represent the first quarter of the combined Discovery-WarnerMedia company’s existence, a Deutschebank analyst asked David Zaslav about his decision to kill the HBO Max-exclusive “Batgirl.”
“The Warner Bros. Motion Picture Group has fantastic IP and a great history,” Zaslav said. “Between DC and the animation group, together with the entire Warner library, our ambition is to bring Warner back and produce great high-quality films. As we look at the opportunities that we have, broadly, DC is one of the top of the list for us. Look at Batman, Superman, Wonder-Woman, Aquaman, these are brands known everywhere in the world. The ability to drive those all over the world is a big opportunity for us.”
Zaslav said that the DC organization moving forward will resemble the strategy that drives Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe.
“We have done a reset. We’ve structured the business,” Zaslav said. “There will be a team with a 10-year plan focusing just on DC. It’s very similar to the structure that Alan Horn and Bob Iger put together very effectively with Kevin Feige at Disney. We think we could build a long-term, much more sustainable growth business out of DC, and as part of that, we’re going to focus on quality. We’re not going to release any film before it’s ready… The focus is going to be, how do we make each of these films, in general, as good as possible? DC is something we can make better, and we’re focused on it now. We have some great DC films coming up. ‘Black Adam,’ ‘Shazam!,’ and ‘Flash.’ We’re working on all of those. We’ve seen them, and we think they’re terrific, and that we can make them even better. That’s what Mike [De Luca] and Pam [Abdy, Warner Bros.’ new motion picture heads] are doing.”
Two days earlier, Warner Bros. Pictures Group scrapped direct-to-streaming titles “Batgirl” and “Scoob!: Holiday Haunt.” “Batgirl” was a particular stunner: the company already sunk $90 million into making the streaming movie, which was effectively complete. But after poor test screenings, Zaslav decided he liked the DC Comics film more as a tax write off and less as a movie. By never releasing a piece of content in any form that could be considered monetizing it, including on streaming, a company can use the sunk cost as an offset against taxable income.
Zaslav added, “We’ve looked hard at the direct-to-streaming business. We’ve seen, luckily, by having access to all the data how these movies perform. Our conclusion is expensive direct-to-streaming movies, in terms of how people are consuming them on the platform, how often people buy a service for them, how they get nourished over time, is no comparison to what happens when you launch a film in the theaters. This idea of expensive films going direct to streaming. We cannot find an economic case for it. We can’t find an economic value for it, and so we’re making a strategic shift.”
Ultimately, Zaslav said, the objective is to “grow the DC brand, to grow the DC characters. But also our job is to protect the DC brand, and that’s what we’re going to do.”