The DC universe of Warner Bros. Discovery broadcast strategy is reset

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

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Chief Executive Officer David Zaslav said Thursday that Warner Bros. Discovery is looking to “reset” her DC cinematic universe and team up with a 10-year plan for the franchise, taking a page from Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The revelation comes two days after the company announced that it would be putting its live DC movie “Batgirl” on the shelf, surprising fans and offering a glimpse into broadcast strategy and a no-nonsense new era in the shadow of recently installed Zaslav.

“We believe we can build a long-term, much stronger, sustainable growth business out of DC,” Zaslav said during an earnings call Thursday when asked about the decision to divest Batgirl. As part of that, we will focus on quality.

While Zaslav has stopped short of commenting on the quality of “Batgirl” outright, his comments suggest the film does not fit in with the new company’s vision for Warner Bros. or a DC franchise. Part of that vision is to recommit to only theatrical versions of Warner Bros. films.

“Fortunately, now with access to all the data, we’ve seen how live-streamed movies are doing,” Zaslav said. “And our conclusion is that streaming movies are very expensive…not comparable to what happens when a movie is released in motion picture, in cinemas.”

Zaslav took over at Warner Bros. Discovery, newly merged in April, prioritized cost-cutting measures and sought to refocus the company’s content strategy, taking a very different direction from former WarnerMedia CEO Jason Keeler, who prioritized broadcast and digital media.

“The idea that expensive films go live, we can’t find an economic argument for,” Zaslav said. “We can’t create economic value for it. And so we’re making a strategic shift.”

While “Batgirl”‘s budget was more modest than its theater peers — about $90 million after the costs of Covid protocols soared — Warner Bros. Discovery, a recent merger of Warner Media and Discovery, is combing through its books for places to save money. Showing the movie “Batgirl” allows the company to deduct taxes as part of a broader effort to reduce the company’s overall debt.

The film finished production in March and was in the early stages of editing by director duo Adel Elaraby and Bilal Falah (“Bad Boys for Life”, “Mrs. Marvel”), but it will not be shown on the company’s live broadcast. Service, premiere in theaters or sell to another studio if the company chooses the tax cut.

Burying the film also saves potential marketing costs for Warner Bros. Discovery and any back payments in the original movie contracts that may have preceded the merger.

Big-name actors are often compensated after a movie is released based on box office scores or viewership metrics. And “Batgirl” had some big names attached: Michael Keaton reprise his role as Batman, J.K. Simmons was cast as Commissioner Jim Gordon and Brendan Fraser was tapped to portray the villain Firefly.

Although the stated explanation for the cancellation of the movie “Batgirl” It’s still a great decision given how long the production is going to “burn down your house before paying off the mortgage,” said Robert Thompson, a professor at Syracuse University and a pop culture expert.

Thompson said the decision appears to pass “at least some judgment” on the film’s quality, because Warner Bros. Discovery doesn’t see a future for it either in live broadcast or theatrical run.

However, with Batgirl in such early stages of post-production, more editing could have addressed the film’s issues in time for its debut in late 2022.

While suspending the movie may make some financial decisions, it does come with a social cost. Fans of DC comics were not only disappointed, but many questioned why the company had to cancel a project led by Afro-Latina star, Leslie Grace.

Warner Bros. Discovery had already come under fire for not publicly addressing the ongoing allegations against The Flash star Ezra Miller.

The decision to shelve Batgirl has raised questions about the future of HBO Max’s other film and TV projects, with many subscribers expressing concern on social media that their favorite shows will be next in the chopping stage.

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