At HBO Max, the Bat-folk can’t catch a break. Weeks after the decision to kill the effectively completed straight-to-streaming movie “Batgirl,” HBO Max canceled “Batman: Caped Crusader” and “Merry Little Batman,” among four other animated projects. The good news for these six newly scrapped Warner Bros. Animation projects is they are still full steam ahead in production and being shopped elsewhere, a person with knowledge of the situation told IndieWire — unlike “Batgirl,” which will never see the light of day.
A second source told IndieWire that HBO Max has made the choice to spend some time away from the kids-and-family sandbox. It’s a crowded and expensive field, and HBO Max isn’t a breakout brand for that type of programming. Disney+ and Netflix will vie for the kids’ market, one with no opportunity for ad revenue — both made a pledge to let the programming run commercial free — in the time when AVOD is not only king, but is also the future of the streamers’ plans for revenue growth.
Previous HBO Max overseers Jason Kilar and Ann Sarnoff were so dedicated to building then-WarnerMedia’s streaming portfolio that they released Warners’ entire 2021 slate day-and-date on HBO Max, infuriating theater owners and talent alike. That won’t happen under Zaslav, but these new strategies present a similar-but-different charm offensive.
Production on “Batman: Caped Crusader” is “far along,” the first person who spoke to for this story told us, and it is “business as usual” at animation tables and within edit bays and the voiceover studio. Though HBO Max no longer wants these six projects, it is the sister studio’s prerogative to see production through and pitch them to other networks and streamers. Any landing pad will be outside of the sizable Warner Bros. Discovery umbrella, we’re told. Think: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu.
There will “likely” be more of this sort of external licensing to other platforms, a third person told IndieWire for this story — but to suggest Warner Bros. is shifting toward a seller-first model (see: Sony), the person said, would be inaccurate and overstated: “Plenty to go around and we can still keep all the stuff we need.” While Warner Bros. Discovery has a lot of platforms, apparently it has even more content.
Our second source for this story said the external monetization possibilities via licensing help offset the “spend, spend, spend” mentality that has inspired Wall Street to punish its streamers. (See: Netflix’s stock price since November.)
The six kids’ projects now without a home include a pair of Looney Tunes movies, a Steve Urkel movie starring the voice of Jaleel White, and an “Amazing World of Gumball” movie. “Batman: Caped Crusader,” with J.J. Abrams and Matt Reeves among its executive producers, is the highest-profile of Monday’s half-dozen canceled Max projects. Today, Warners announced that “The Batman” director Reeves reupped his deal with Warner Bros. Television Group and signed an overall deal with Warner Bros. Pictures Group — the day after the “Caped Crusader” cancellation broke. Warners’ communications team is spinning harder than the rear wheel on the Batcycle.
At Warner Bros. Animation, they’re using the HBO Max diss as an opportunity to take the iconic characters elsewhere. It won’t be the first time that’s happened for Warners’ IP: “Animaniacs” is about to stream its third season on Hulu (and only on Hulu); “Green Eggs and Ham” was on Netflix for two seasons, “The Flintstones”-for-grownups series “Bedrock” is currently in development at Fox, and “Right Now Kapow” had its lone season on Disney XD back in 2016.
If this seems to be happening quite at lot at HBO Max, it is. But Warner Bros. Animation really wants to emphasize that “Caped Crusader” is not a “Batgirl” situation. There were no test screenings of the Batman cartoon, for example. A poor test screening was one of the final nails in the “Batgirl” coffin, IndieWire was previously told.
The latest moves are financially motivated decisions at a company that desperately needs to make (a lot of) good ones. “Batgirl,” which cost $90 million to make, served as a write-off allowable within months of the WarnerMedia and Discovery, Inc. merger. David Zaslav’s army of CPAs made other similar, but less dramatic, cuts that basically serve as tax credits. The also found justification in removing quite a number (68, by our current count) of underperforming movies and shows from the existing HBO Max library. Server space ain’t free and amortization is a legitimate accounting strategy.
Underpinning all of this is the ever-declining WBD stock, which is currently at half the price it started with back in April. The company has lost nearly $2 billion in market cap since just Friday. Things are not going well for the young merger and its $55 billion in debt, and clearly these strategies are all meant to right the ship.
WBD is undergoing rolling layoffs due to Zaslav’s self-appointed mandate to find at least $3 billion in synergies between Discovery and WarnerMedia. Those staff reductions claimed a number of key executives and basically the entire HBO Max reality and casting departments. WBD also lost $3.4 billion in its first quarter as a combined company.
Despite the release of “Batman” properties, Zaslav has said his goal is to make DC a Marvel-esque machine. Sources previously told IndieWire that he will prioritize theatrical, particularly with respect to DC releases. (There are still DC series returning and/or in the works at HBO Max: “The Penguin” is in development, “The Beastmaster” is coming back and there’s also a “Green Lantern” series.)