WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar said he's disappointed that he doesn't have much time left with his engaged-to-merge company, and he regrets the hurried way Hollywood was informed about Warner's decision to go day-and-date with its 2021 theatrical slate on HBO Max.
Those were the major takeaways from Kilar's Code Conference appearance in Beverly Hills Tuesday, where he appeared on the same stage that Netflix Co-CEO Ted Sarandos created a stir on a day earlier.
“I would far prefer this adventure to go on for 10, 20 years, but that’s not the way corporate America works,” Kilar said, adding that the last 16 months running WarnerMedia has "been among the most fulfilling of my professional life."
AT&T announced that it is spinning off WarnerMedia and merging it with Discovery Inc. in May, putting Discovery CEO David Zaslav in charge of the new operation. Kilar told his staff that he'd stay on until the merger closes in early 2022. At that point, his job will cease to exist, despite the obvious momentum established recently by its core operation, streaming startup HBO Max.
Kilar noted that WarnerMedia is spending $18 billion a year to produce content across its various platforms, and that it probably "isn't sustainable" for other media companies to sustain their high levels of streaming spending.
Kilar also touched on WarnerMedia's strained relationship with its movie creatives following December's abrupt announcement that all 17 films on the Warner Bros. Pictures 2021 slate would be released simultaneously on HBO Max and in theaters.
“We endeavored to do the right thing in terms of communication, but I would be the first one to say – and the responsibility rests on my shoulders--that in hindsight, we should have taken the better part of a month to have over 170 conversations, which is the number of participants that are in our 2021 film slate," Kilar said.
"We tried to do that in a compressed period of time--less than a week--because, of course, there was going to be leaks, there was going to be everybody opining on whether we should do this or not do this, and again, change is hard, but to your question, our intentions were very, very good," he added. "We said from the start that we were going to treat every single film as though it were a blockbuster from an economic perspective for participants, that we were going to be fair and generous, and that we were going to do the right thing. And the good news is we did. And we worked our tail ends off to do that.”
Daniel Frankel is the managing editor of Next TV, an internet publishing vertical focused on the business of video streaming. A Los Angeles-based writer and editor who has covered the media and technology industries for more than two decades, Daniel has worked on staff for publications including E! Online, Electronic Media, Mediaweek, Variety, paidContent and GigaOm. His reliable mid-range jump shot, deft ambidextrous post-up game and tough interior defense have been criminally overlooked.
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