In his most expansive public comments since WarnerMedia last week announced its landmark decision to premiere movies on HBO Max the same day they debut in theaters, the media conglomerate’s CEO, Jason Kilar, called the move a “defining moment” for his company.
Speaking at a virtual event produced and covered by Variety, Kilar said the basic economics of the pandemic, which has shut down most movie houses, render the strategy’s logic totally defensible in the near term.
In order for the Warner Bros. studio business to work, he said, “either the box office needs to be there, or if the box office is not there, clearly HBO needs to carry some weight there.”
Kilar added, “We’re in the middle of a pandemic. I can’t wave that away."
WarnerMedia announced last week that it’s entire 2021 theatrical slate of 17 movies will premiere day-and-date on HBO Max, the media company's recently launched $14.99-a-month subscription steaming service.
With public health experts widely agreeing that vaccines will tamp down the COVID-19 pandemic by the middle of next year, many movie business watchers see WarnerMedia’s move as a permanent extinguishment of the theatrical window model.
WarnerMedia is further taking heat for making the move in a not so collaborative way. The Directors Guild of America, for example, said it wasn’t given a download from the recently installed top-level WarnerMedia leadership, which starts with Kilar, about the day-and-date strategy.
Kilar did concede that WarnerMedia didn’t discuss the plan with its creative partners, but said that contracts would be renegotiated “through the lens of generosity.”
Kilar, however, added that WarnerMedia did run the plan by as many as 700 people before executing it. (Editor's note: Somehow, WarnerMedia was able to announce the plan before it got leaked to the press.)
“The vast majority of those conversations have been very, very positive because as people are able to hear from us, and to be able to be taken through it, and to be able to have questions answered, ultimately people feel good about that,” Kilar said. “We all want a healthy industry, we all want storytellers to be compensated fairly and ideally generously, and we ultimately want studios to be healthy, too. So this is all of us doing the best we can.”
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