Last month came word that “Batgirl,” the $90 million Warner Bros./DC movie starring Leslie Grace as Barbara Gordon/Batgirl, would not be released theatrically, on HBO Max, or anywhere else. WBD, formed formed earlier this year by Discovery’s acquisition of WarnerMedia, determined that taking a tax write-off for “Batgirl” made more financial sense than releasing it commercially.
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“To me, you know, it’s blown out of proportion a little bit, in terms of the attention externally,” said Wiedenfels, speaking Thursday at the Bank of America Securities Media, Communications & Entertainment Conference, regarding the “Batgirl” decision. “The focus is, on a go-forward basis here, we’re spending more than ever in the history of the two legacy companies on content. We’re continuing to make significant investments — [but] we’ll make them differently.”
“Media likes to talk about media, I guess,” Wiedenfels added about the coverage of the WBD’s nixing of “Batgirl” and other projects. Regarding “Batgirl,” he said, “I don’t think it is unusual. We are a creative industry and one of the elements of creativity is that there is judgment and views on what the potential of what a certain piece of [intellectual property] might be.”
The CFO, defending the cutbacks by Warner Bros. Discovery, said, “Clearly, the course corrections, making changes quickly where we don’t agree with the track that WarnerMedia was on, that took a lot of courage and execution early.”
Wiedenfels’ comments come after Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav has also remained unapologetic about killing off projects for financial reasons. “We’re not going to launch a movie to make a quarter and we’re not going to put a movie out unless we believe in it,” Zaslav said on the company’s earnings call last month, responding to a question about the “Batgirl” cancellation.
On Thursday, Wiedenfels denied that the axing of “Batgirl” represented a pullback in the company’s overall DC strategy. “There is a lot in flight, but clearly if you look at it from a risk-and-reward perspective, leveraging some of that existing IP, some of those existing brands, improves your return profile in a very significant way,” he said. He noted that WDB is continuing to look for an executive to lead DC’s film and TV business, after talks with producer Dan Lin for the position ended.
Wiedenfels insisted that Warner Bros. Discovery has “healthy relationships” with Hollywood talent: “We are offering one of the best platforms for anyone in the creative space,” he said.
For Q2, Warner Bros. Discovery recorded restructuring charges that included content impairments of $496 million and content development write-offs of $329 million, which “resulted from a global strategic review of content following the merger,” the company disclosed in its 10-Q filing with the SEC.
Among other cost-cutting moves under the company, HBO Max quietly removed several Warner Bros. movies that were streaming exclusively on the service along with about 200 older episodes of “Sesame Street” and some original series.
Warner Bros. Discovery is aiming to merge HBO Max and Discovery+ in the summer of 2023, and Wiedenfels said that’s still the plan. “People are working as hard and as fast as possible,” he said.
The merged HBO Max-Discovery+ will combine the best elements of both services, WBD streaming chief JB Perrette said on the Q2 earnings call last month. HBO Max has had “performance and customer issues” but offers a rich set of features, while Discovery+ has more limited features but provides a more robust underlying delivery infrastructure, he said.
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