David Zaslav, Warner Bros. Discovery Chief Executive Officer, took the stage at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas last April and said he does not believe in Direct-to-Streaming platforms. Then, he reminded everyone he had said it already nine months ago and repeated it six months ago, too!
So, what’s behind Warner Bros’ CEO’s statement, and can we expect the team to change their mind? Let’s take a look.
The Theatre Experience vs Streaming Movies
When Zaslav took the stage in Vegas, he was very well aware of who he was talking to. The audience attending the CinemaCon convention was primarily composed of theater owners. Thus, he began: “Movies [in theaters] perform substantially better when we bring them to HBO Max than any of the direct-to-streaming movies.” In other words, he said that the Warner Bros. Picture Group has zero interest in releasing premium movies into Max first.
The CEO firmly believes that motion pictures are the purer form of storytelling, something that cannot be replicated by the retail, cable, or broadband industry. It’s all about the experience, about getting people into a contemporary theater that needs not just to entertain people but to inspire them as well.
I think movie enthusiasts everywhere can relate to his words. Zaslav recalled he fell in love with them as a Brooklyn kid looking forward to going to the theater to see Batman and Superman. He then said that the industry has an obligation to reopen theaters on main streets around the country.
Zaslav closed the conference by reassuring exhibitors that he had the highest praise for Mike De Luca and Pamela Abdy, the newly installed leaders at Warner Bros (he had accolades for Peter Safran and James Gunn, too). The crowd also learned that Warners hopes to get to twenty theatrical releases next year (up from 14 in 2022).
The Impact of Zaslav’s Business Approach
Zaslav has explained that putting notion pictures on a streaming service does not work in terms of business. It hasn’t reduced churn, and it has also not increased the number of subscribers. What’s more, Zaslav believes it has reduced the quality of products as well.
In 2021, Warner Bros. took a bold step by making their theatrical movies available for streaming on HBO Max at the same time as their theatrical release. However, in 2022, they modified their approach, allowing the films to be streamed after a 45-day theatrical window. While this strategy faced criticism from filmmakers and industry professionals, it proved to be a blessing for audiences confined to their homes during the pandemic.
Upcoming films The Flash and Barbie are definitely showing a pivot away from direct to streaming. Had David Zaslav been CEO earlier, though, we would not have seen some major blockbusters directly on HBO.
About David Zaslav
David Michael Zaslav serves as CEO and President of Warner Bros Discovery. He oversees all operations for Discovery’s global suite of brands, which includes HBO and HBO Max, CNN, HGTV, discovery+, Food Network, OWN, Discovery Kids, ID, Warner Bros. Animation, Eurosport, and more.
In 2008, Zaslav spearheaded and transformed the previously named Discovery Health into the OWN, or Oprah Winfrey Network, the same year that Discovery began trading as a public company.
Zaslav has been honored with numerous awards for his contributions to the media industry and philanthropic endeavors and was inducted into the prestigious Cable Hall of Fame in 2017 and into the Cable TV Pioneers Class of 2018. He also serves on the boards of Sirius XM, The Cable Center, Grupo Televisa, Partnership for New York City, Boston University School, Center for Communication, the Mount Sinai Medical Center, and Syracuse University.
In February this year, Zaslav offered a glimmer of hope for Zack Snyder’s Justice League when he hinted at a reboot involving James Gunn and Peter Safran.