David Zaslav Gives CinemaCon What It Wants: ‘Content Is More Powerful Than Armies’

Warner Bros Discovery President and CEO wakes up sleepy CinemaCon with a promise: "We do not want to do direct-to-streaming movies."
David Zaslav, President and CEO, Warner Bros. Discovery, speaks onstage for the Warner Bros. Pictures Studio Presentation during CinemaCon 2023
David Zaslav, President and CEO, Warner Bros. Discovery, speaks onstage for the Warner Bros. Pictures Studio Presentation during CinemaCon 2023
(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Day Two of CinemaCon got off to an early start, which meant a subdued and potentially casino-fogged audience in the Caesar’s Palace Colosseum. And then Warner Bros. Discovery chief David Zaslav took the stage.

“We believe in full windowing of the motion pictures,” he told a theater full of theater owners. “We do not want to do direct-to-streaming movies. We are in no rush to bring the movies to Max.”

That woke them up.

Last year, CinemaCon was where Warner Bros. basically apologized for going day-and-date in theaters and on HBO Max with its entire slate of movies — a Jason Kilar plan to come out of the Covid pandemic. Well, Kilar’s gone, HBO Max is soon to become Max, and this definitely ain’t that Warner Bros. Discovery. (WarnerMedia and Discovery merged last April weeks ahead of CinemaCon 2022, so this was really Zaslav’s opening act in front of this crowd.)

Zaslav said it’s not just “good business” to be completely committed to theatrical, but that America “needs to rally right now.” He spoke of every Main Street having two theaters, but not all of them are open, and not each of the open ones are packed houses.

“It’s a moment when people need to be entertained,” Zaslav said. “It’s a moment when people need to be inspired.”

“Content and story are more powerful than armies,” he continued, citing the communal aspect of movie theaters. Zaslav explained: Films in theaters unite Black and white, left and right, everyone from all different backgrounds. Those in attendance inhaled it like a hangover breakfast.

Warner Bros. Discovery plans to release 16 movies in 2023, all in theaters, of course. And next year? “We want to do more than 20,” Zaslav said.

The Warner Bros. presentation followed the annual “State of the Industry” presentation — not exactly your ideal opening act, especially when it begins at 8:30 a.m. (doors at 8!) in Las Vegas. (Double especially after a night of partying; the official one last night took place at the indoor/outdoor OMNIA nightclub.)

To give credit where it’s due, Andrew Cripps and Jeff Goldstein assisted the opening of some bleary eyes with a high-energy entrance to the song “Barbie Girl,” wearing hot pink head-to-toe. “Barbie” starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling in theaters July 21, 2023!

If you somehow slept through Zaslav, well, Oprah Winfrey stormed the stage next. Her trademark Oprah energy — and the debut of footage for her new “The Color Purple” film, a Christmas Day 2023 release — did not disappoint.

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