Tuesday, May 17, 2022

WarnerMedia’s Ex-Boss Jason Kilar Says You Should Be Happy With The Decline Of Movie Theaters

Must read

Shreya Christinahttps://cafe-madrid.com
Shreya has been with cafe-madrid.com for 3 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider cafe-madrid.com team, Shreya seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.

Some endings are surprising. This one isn’t: Jason Kilar, who has headed WarnerMedia for the past two years, is leaving the company — because it has a new owner who is the entertainment conglomerate behind HBO, CNN, and Warner Bros.

This resolution has been evident since May last year, when AT&T announced it would divest WarnerMedia — which it had bought three years earlier — to cable television programmer Discovery Inc. And more specifically, at a press conference announcing the deal, when Discovery CEO David Zaslav had nothing to say about Kilar .’s future in the combined company.

There was palpable joy in some corners of Hollywood as Kilar’s impending departure became apparent as Kilar had become a deputy for resentment over the way tech giants treated Hollywood. And specifically because Kilar had moved all of WarnerMedia’s movies for 2021, including big-budget spectacles like: Duneto a streaming-first model.

Kilar said he made the move because of the pandemic that has closed theaters around the world. But many people I spoke to interpreted it as an example of a techie — Kilar started at Amazon, before running Hulu in its early days — disrupting an industry just to cause disruption.

Now WarnerMedia has opted for a hybrid model that most of Hollywood eventually adopted: put your biggest stuff in movie theaters and stream everything else to people’s phones and homes. I spoke with Kilar about that decision and what it means for the future of movies, the prospect of future consolidation of Big Media, his handling of the departure of former CNN boss Jeff Zucker and what he will do next. Spoiler: he didn’t answer the last one.

Peter Kafka

You leave after two years. Was there anything that you could have seen coming, that you could have predicted?

Jason Kilar

There are some things that I don’t think anyone could have predicted: that we would all be in lockdown for five months, with no film or TV production anywhere in the world. I don’t think anyone would have predicted that people would all work from home for most of the two years. But when it came to the business and the things we needed to do and focus on, that was a big part of the expectations.

Peter Kafka

Without using the word ‘storytelling’, can you point me to something that you are proud of within the company that people might not be able to see on the outside?

Jason Kilar

Focus on the customer. The company’s 99-year history is largely a wholesale business. We make movies, TV series, documentaries and sometimes TV channels, but then we give those things to other companies and they communicate with the customer, the audience, the fan. And in the last two years, it’s been a dramatic change in the company and the strategy and even the culture, to be very focused on the customer and ultimately serve them directly.

Peter Kafka

In the past, we’ve talked about your movie release strategy: moving all your movies to streaming in 2021 and to a mixed model this year, with some movies opening in theaters first and some streaming right away. Do you think there will be room in the cinemas for non-superhero movies that are not events? Or do you think you’ll go to the movies for Marvel and Batman and Fast and the Furious and everything else you’re going to watch at home?

Jason Kilar

I think there will be space in the mainstream theaters, but non-exclusive. I think the biggest, IMAX-worthy spectacles will have exclusive theatrical performances, albeit shorter than the industry is used to. But I do think there will be plenty of room in the theaters for romantic comedies, for nuanced dramas, but those movies won’t be distributed exclusively in theaters.

Peter Kafka

I wonder, if I run a theater chain, how can I convince myself to give way to a romantic comedy, knowing that the most consistent audience will be for these event films, and maybe horror too. It looks like I’m going to hand that real estate over to the big franchises eventually.

Jason Kilar

I think you’re surrendering your first real estate to the big spectacles. There is no doubt about that. But keep in mind that many of these theaters have 12, 20, 20-plus screens. So I don’t believe every screen will be given to a superhero movie. The theaters are going to act in their own best interest, and I think their best interest will lead with spectacle… but I do believe the future of the industry will involve romantic comedies and nuanced dramas on a non-exclusive basis, on some screens.

Peter Kafka

If I’m a fan of dramas and romantic comedies, should I feel bad that it’s getting harder to see those things in the cinema? Or should I feel good that it’s easier to see that stuff at home?

Jason Kilar

I think it’s a very positive development, for two reasons: 1) it’s a model that allows for more aggressive investment in romantic comedies and dramas, and 2) giving consumers the choice that I think is ultimately a good thing. And for those invested in the theatrical experience – I believe they will. And for those who prefer the convenience of the sofa, they will have that too.

Peter Kafka

You’re leaving WarnerMedia because it’s merging with Discovery. Do you think that combination will be big enough to compete? Or will they have to buy more stuff or sell themselves to someone else?

Jason Kilar

I will speak at a higher level about the industry in general. I think it’s fair to say that there are more players in the streaming world right now than I think the industry will support on a large scale. So I think there will be more chess moves.

Peter Kafka

What was the most important thing on your to-do list that you were unable to do?

Jason Kilar

I don’t know if there is. I’ve always tried to think long term, and the things we’ve done over the past two years were not just about 2021 or 2022, but also about the next decade. We have plans for 10 years.

Peter Kafka

Have you advised David Zaslav and his team on what to do with the team and the plans you have set up?

Jason Kilar

At the end of the day I hand over the keys to David so he can go and lead as he sees fit. This is how it should work in this situation. The way the transaction was set up was that Discovery would be in control, which is why David gets to make those decisions.

Peter Kafka

Do you regret the way you acted? [former CNN head] Jeff Zucker’s departure from CNN — firing him, and its aftermath?

Jason Kilar

I accepted Jeff’s resignation [Note: Both the New York Times and Wall Street Journal have reported that Kilar told Zucker he would have to leave his job after learning Zucker had failed to disclose a relationship with Allison Gollust, CNN’s chief marketing officer]† But to answer your question: No, I have no regrets. As I said publicly, decisions were made regarding CNN and I have a good feeling about that.

You’re the judge of CNN+, but if you look at what’s happened over the past few weeks, you’ve got what I think is the strongest news franchise in the world, firmly embracing a paid, robust, scalable business model. And I think in 10 years that will make all the difference to CNN. So I have no regrets. [Disclosure: Recode and cafemadrid Media created Land of the Giants, a documentary series now streaming on CNN+; my editor Samantha Oltman and I were executive producers for the project.]

Peter Kafka

What’s next for you?

Jason Kilar

Fair question. That’s for the next conversation you and I have.

More articles

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Latest article