As I type these words, executives at Discovery Inc. are putting the finishing touches on their USD $43 billion acquisition of WarnerMedia. The deal was announced last May and came as a shock, since AT&T had just purchased Time Warner three years earlier after a lengthy court battle with the United States Justice Department. The move was seen as an admission by the telecom giant that, unlike Discovery, they were not cut out to run a media and entertainment business.
There was rampant speculation at the time about who from Warner Media might remain once the deal closed and Discovery took over. It was assumed that Discovery would install their own management team as often happens in such acquisitions. Reports began to emerge almost immediately of senior executives like WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar cutting their exit deals. However, the incentives to stay on until the transaction was complete must have been enticing because few, if any, of the WarnerMedia team jumped ship. That is, not until this week.
A majority of WarnerMedia’s senior executives announced their departure this week ahead of the deal closing as early as Today. Discovery began announcing their leadership team within days. It is being described as Discovery “cleaning house,” though my perspective on all the executive shuffling is similar to that of Los Angeles Times journalist Meg James, who tweeted: “Warner Bros. Discovery gets new management team. Alternative headline: David Zaslav brings his Discovery crew to the new company. To the victor goes the spoils.”
The thing about perspectives however, is that everybody has one. Take for instance the news that Kilar, whose infamous Project Popcorn opened all 18 Warner Bros. theatrical release throughout 2021 day-and-date with HBO Max. When he announced his intention to step down from WarnerMedia through the same kind of impromptu memo that launched his alternative distribution strategy, it is a safe bet nobody who works in motion picture exhibition (nor perhaps some who work in distribution) was overly upset. More than a few staffers at CNN may have, in fact, rejoiced.
But there is always an alternative point of view. For instance, Martin Peers, a columnist for the tech-centric publication The Information, wrote that Kilar’s departure was a pity, “… for both Warner Bros. Discovery and the entertainment industry more broadly.”
Actually, in the case of Kilar, the alternative point of view turned out to be first person, since the executive went on a round of exit interviews with selectively chosen media outlets. On the future of movie theatres Kilar told Peter Kafka at Recode:
I think there will be room in mainstream theaters, but non-exclusively. I think that the biggest, IMAX-worthy spectacles will have exclusive theatrical runs, albeit shorter than the industry is used to. But I do think there will be ample room in the theaters for romantic comedies, for nuanced dramas, but those motion pictures will not be exclusively distributed in theaters.
Kilar told Deadline that the strategy of releasing Warner Bros. theatrical titles day-and-date on HBO Max was effective and beneficial to the company. “History is already looking at it quite favorably. It worked,” he said.
That is a rather myopic perspective and, at best, revisionist. If Project Popcorn was such an overwhelming success, why isn’t Warner Bros. still releasing its theatrical movies day-and-date on HBO Max? If it really led to a huge increase in HBO Max paid subscriber levels and didn’t cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars in “make good” payments to talent and an going Village Roadshow lawsuit, then why isn’t Zaslav bending over backwards to retain Kilar, its architect? Why isn’t Kilar a part of the new Warner Bros. Discovery leadership team? Why was he kept in the dark about merger talks between AT&T and Discovery until it was already negotiated and about to be made public?
It’s not that David Zaslav, the head of Discvoery, doesn’t know talent when he sees it and mistakenly overlooked Kilar. After all, he managed to keep executives such as Casey Bloys onboard as Chief Content Officer of HBO and HBO Max and Toby Emmerich will stay on as Chairman of Warner Bros. Pictures Group. The latter is great news for the theatrical motion picture business.
Emmerich started at New Line Cinema as a music supervisor back in 1992 and worked his way up to President of Production where he oversaw such films as “The Lord of the Rings” franchise, “Elf,” “The Notebook,” “Wedding Crashers,” “The Conjuring” franchise, among many others. I first met him in the late 1990s through his screenplays for “Frequency” and “The Last Mimzy,” which he managed to complete while working as an executive at New Line. Emmerich is well versed in all aspects of the movie business and is known for being enthusiastic and kind. Perhaps that’s why he’s been with Warner Bros. for thirty years in ever more important roles, surviving a number of regime changes.
However, if reading all the news about the WarnerMedia Discovery merger or the ongoing tumult of The Slap at the Oscars (and yes, media outlets have started capitalizing that phrase), why not take a break and watch this week’s CJ Cinema Summit. We were live at BAFTA in London where learned all about the renovation of their historic headquarters at 195 Piccadilly from those who worked on the project. Benedetti Architects, Christie, CinemaNext, Dolby, Harkness and QSC all worked together to redevelop the property amid a global pandemic.
Connect color with emotion in Dolby
Dolby helps audiences relate to the awkward feelings and emotions in this epically animated Disney Pixar movie.
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