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Warner Bros. Discovery Appears to Nix Sending Movies to HBO Max After 45 Days; How Long Will It Take for Movies to Stream Now?

David Satin

The winds of change continue to blow for Warner Bros. Discovery. The company made a huge news splash last week, canceling the scheduled release of “Batgirl” onto its streaming platform HBO Max. The film, which reportedly cost $90 million and was practically finished, had potential for a theatrical release as well, but now will be shelved completely in favor of a tax write-off, which should help the massively in debt, recently merged conglomerate.

Despite the canning of the DC superhero film, new Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav seems determined to leave his mark on the company and is working to undo many of the plans that his now-ousted predecessors put in place. Zaslav intends to streamline and cut costs, leaving many to wonder if he is damaging the company's premium brand.

On of the pivots that Zaslav is making is that he wants to emphasize theatrical releases over throwing content immediately to streaming. In a two-hour call with analysts following the release of WBD's Q2 earnings report, Zaslav said, “This idea of expensive films going direct-to-streaming, we cannot find an economic case for it. We can’t find an economic value for it.” With economic conditions changing around the world, there has been a significant pullback in the financial expectations for streaming services, making it difficult for many to see what the value proposition is for releasing big-budget fare exclusively on streaming.

After Warner Media released its entire 2021 movie slate on HBO Max on the day and date of its theatrical release, the company committed to a 45-day window for theatrically released films to come HBO Max, but that was under former CEO Jason Kilar.

Zaslav refused to commit to that schedule in the most recent earnings call, stating instead that some films will have shorter theatrical windows, but that the company’s focus “will be on theatrical.” Zaslav clearly sees theatrical releases as much more financially beneficial to the company’s future, combined with a re-focusing on paid, on demand content.

That re-focusing is also already underway. The new Baz Luhrmman biopic “Elvis” was expected to arrive on HBO Max this week given the previously promised 45-day schedule. Now, according to IndieWire, that plan has been shelved. Instead, starting Tuesday, Aug. 9, “Elvis” will be available to rent — for $19.99 for a 48-hour period — or purchase for $24.99. The film is expected to arrive on HBO Max at some point later this year, but no release date has yet officially been confirmed.

The evident shift in strategy comes at a precarious time for Warner Bros. Discovery. In the Q2 earnings report, the company announced that HBO Max and discovery+ had a combined 92.1 million subscribers, but did not disclose how many HBO Max itself gained. The company also announced that the long-planned merger of its two streaming services would finally be happening in summer 2023.

It remains to be seen if the strategy to offer less premium, streaming-exclusive content will entice more consumers to sign up for WBD’s streamers, but Zaslav is staking the future of his company on completely moving away from the plans of the previous leadership regime.

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