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Warner Bros Discovery’s DC universe, streaming strategy get a reset


Leslie Grace attends Warner Bros. Premiere of “The Suicide Squad” at The Landmark Westwood on August 02, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.

Axelle/bauer-griffin | Filmmagic | Getty Images

Warner Bros. Discovery is eyeing a “reset” of its DC cinematic universe and establishing a team with a 10-year plan for the franchise, taking a page from Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe, CEO David Zaslav said Thursday.

The revelation comes two days after the corporate announced it might shelve its straight-to-streaming DC film “Batgirl,” surprising fans and offering a glimpse into the streaming strategy and latest no-nonsense era under recently installed Zaslav.

“We predict that we could construct a long-term, much stronger, sustainable growth business out of DC,” Zaslav said during an earnings call Thursday when asked in regards to the decision to axe “Batgirl.” “And as a part of that, we’ll concentrate on quality.”

While Zaslav stopped wanting commenting on the standard of “Batgirl” explicitly, his statements suggest the film didn’t fit the corporate’s latest vision for Warner Bros. or the DC franchise. A part of that vision is reestablishing a commitment to theatrical-only releases for Warner Bros. movies.

“We have seen, luckily, by having access now to all the information, how direct-to-streaming movies perform,” Zaslav said. “And our conclusion is that expensive direct-to-streaming movies … is not any comparison to what happens whenever you launch a movie within the movie, within the theaters.”

Zaslav took the helm on the newly merged Warner Bros. Discovery in April and has prioritized cost-cutting measures and sought to refocus the corporate’s content strategy, taking a vastly different direction than former WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar, who prioritized streaming and digital media.

“This concept of costly movies going direct to streaming, we cannot find an economic case for it,” Zaslav said. “We won’t find an economic value for it. And so we’re making a strategic shift.”

While “Batgirl” had a more modest budget than its theatrical counterparts — around $90 million after Covid protocols hiked costs — Warner Bros. Discovery, a newly minted merger between Warner Media and Discovery, has been combing its books for places to get monetary savings. Shelving the “Batgirl” film allows the corporate to take a tax-write off as a part of a wider effort to pare down overall company debt.

The film accomplished production in March and was within the early stages of editing by the directing duo of Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah (“Bad Boys for Life,” “Ms Marvel”), however it won’t be released on the corporate’s streaming service, premier in theaters or be sold to a different studio if the corporate opts for the tax write-down.

Burying the film also saves Warner Bros. Discovery potential marketing costs and any back-end payouts in original film contracts which will have pre-dated the merger.

Big name actors are sometimes compensated after a movie’s release based on box office markers or viewership metrics. And “Batgirl” had some big names attached: Michael Keaton reprised his role as Batman, J.K. Simmons was forged as Commissioner Jim Gordon and Brendan Fraser was tapped to portray the villain Firefly.

“Although the stated explanation for the scrapping of ‘Batgirl’ concerns the changing strategies close to feature movies being released on to streaming platforms, this still appears to be a remarkable decision given how far along the production was,” said Robert Thompson, a professor at Syracuse University and a popular culture expert. “Like burning down your home just before you repay the mortgage.”

The choice seems to pass “at the least some judgement” on the standard of the film, Thompson said, since Warner Bros. Discovery sees no future for it in either streaming or theatrical release.

Still, with “Batgirl” in such early stages of post-production, further editing could have addressed issues with the film in time for its scheduled debut in late 2022.

While shelving the movie may make some financial decision, it comes at a social cost. Not only were fans of DC comics disenchanted, but many questioned why the corporate had axed a project helmed by an Afro-Latina star, Leslie Grace.

Warner Bros. Discovery was already under fire for not openly addressing ongoing allegations against “The Flash” star Ezra Miller.

The choice to shelve “Batgirl” also raised questions on the long run of other HBO Max film and tv projects, with many subscribers taking to social media anxious that their favorite programs may very well be next on the chopping block.

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