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Exec: Major Franchises a Priority at Warner Bros. Discovery, Theatrical Focus Still Prevalent

David Satin

Warner Bros. Discovery has been content to go its own way in regard to harnessing the financial potential of its flagship streaming service HBO Max. When Warner Bros. was officially acquired by Discovery earlier this year, new CEO David Zaslav was mandated with finding a total of $3 billion in savings to offset a debt of over $50 million.

Customers have seen the results of that quest for savings with shows and content leaving the streamer left and right, and the company committing to more (and longer) theatrical releases.

While many have wondered whether the company was damaging its established premium brand with these strategies, WBD has forged ahead. This week, the company’s international head Gerhard Zeiler spoke at RTS London, an annual television conference hosted by the Royal Television Society. Zeiler confidently tread the company line, reiterating that big movies would always get a theatrical window before heading to streaming.

“The big movies have much better success than anyone forecasted. Everyone who believed cinema is dead has been proven wrong and will be proved wrong in the future. The theatrical business is here to stay, although of course the pandemic changed things,” Zeiler said, according to Deadline.

Zeiler dropped another interesting tidbit while delivering the keynote address. He stressed the number of well-known intellectual properties that WBD owns and said that the company would “probably focus more on the development of franchises” moving forward. That includes the Harry Potter, DC Comics, and Game of Thrones franchises, which Zeiler talked up as a key development priority for WBD.

WBD already has the “GoT” prequel “House of The Dragon” performing consistently well, both via streaming and the premium linear channel HBO. WBD has also announced that it is in early development for another “Game of Thrones” spinoff focusing on legacy character Jon Snow. But with Walt Disney making so much use of the Star Wars and Marvel franchises, and Prime Video cashing in on its own epic fantasy IP with “Lord of The Rings: The Rings of Power,” WBD cannot risk being left behind in the franchise wars.

Unlike Disney, all of WBD’s comic book projects except for the animated “Harley Quinn” series are currently slated for theatrical releases after the company ended plans for Max Original series and movies centered on the comic books characters. “GoT” spinoffs will likely remain on HBO and HBO Max, but will the company try to develop multiple Westeros projects at the same time, as Disney has done?

While their strategy of taking advantage of IP with so much name recognition might be similar to that of Disney and Amazon, WBD’s tactics will likely be quite different. The company is still heavily focused on theatrical releases, so it might not be a good idea to expect any big-budget Harry Potter series to hit HBO Max any time soon, because the company is relying on the magic of the big screen to cast a spell on its balance sheets.

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