Warner Bros. Chief Says It’s “Imperative” To Offer New Movies To Home Viewers

David Lieberman

Fox CEO James Murdoch isn’t the only studio owner pushing hard to offer new movies to home viewers in the period when theaters insist on showing them exclusively. Warner Bros. also considers it an “imperative” to “offer consumers more choices earlier,” studio chief Kevin Tsujihara told an investor gathering today.

“We’re having very constructive conversations with the exhibitors for the first time that we’ve had in a long time,” he told Credit Suisse’s Technology, Media & Telecom Conference. “And I think they recognize and we recognize that, all things being equal, we want to work it out with you. So we’re working with them to try to create a new window.”

But even if theater owners don’t go along, “we’re going to do it, and we’re very focused on it.”

Consumers “tell us clearly that they want it,” he adds. “That’s where all the pirating is occurring. We have to meet that demand with a legal solution.”

Murdoch incurred the wrath of the National Association of Theatre Owners in September when he challenged “these crazy hold-backs that theater owners put in place” by insisting on exclusive access to new movies for about 90 days.

The trade group’s chief John Fithian responded that “substantive, private conversations with exhibition’s long-time studio partners have taken place without self-serving public pronouncements,” and warned Murdoch to “be careful he doesn’t undermine that trust.”

In other comments today, Tsujihara said that Warner’s Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them is about to exceed $500 million in worldwide box office sales. And in admissions, “we’re going to land right among the best of every Harry Potter movie we had except for the last one.”

With a plan built around author J. K. Rowling’s story ideas, “we have games opportunities, consumer products opportunities, we have a studio tour in London…to include Fantastic Beasts” and — in partnership with Universal Studios — “the opportunity potentially to have new theme park attractions.”

Tsujihara also is optimistic about boosting movie sales in China. “The size of that opportunity for a movie studio is bigger than anything we’re going to see internationally for a long, long, long time.”

He doesn’t worry that Warner Bros. might have to shift gears if AT&T can close its $85 billion deal to buy Time Warner. Telco chief Randall Stephenson has told the studio that “we understand that your culture is incredibly different than the culture that we have, and we understand why you have to protect that,” Tsujihara says.

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