Former WarnerMedia boss says you should be happy to get Batman in theaters and Roma at home

Former WarnerMedia boss says you should be happy to get Batman in theaters and Roma at home

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

This resolution has been clear since last May, when AT&T announced it was separating WarnerMedia – which it had bought three years earlier – from cable television developer Discovery Inc. And more precisely, at the press conference at which the agreement was announced, when it is Discovery director David Zaslav had nothing to say about Kilar’s future in a combined enterprise.

There was tangible joy in some corners of Hollywood when Kilar’s ​​future departure became apparent as Kilar became a substitute for resentment over the way tech giants treated Hollywood. And especially because Kilar has moved all the 2021 WarnerMedia moviesincluding high-budget spectacles like Duneon the model with the first streaming.

Killar said that he made this move because of the pandemic that closed cinemas around the world. But many people I’ve talked to have interpreted this as an example of the technological type – Kilar started in Amazon, before he started Hulu in his early days – who disrupted the industry just for the sake of disruption.

Now WarnerMedia has opted for the hybrid model that most Hollywood eventually used: put your biggest stuff in theaters and stream everything else to people’s phones and homes. I talked to Kilar about that decision and what it means for the future of films, the prospects for the future consolidation of the big media, his treatment of the departure of former CNN chief Jeff Zucker, and what he will do next. Spoiler: He didn’t answer the last one.

Peter Kafka

You’re leaving after two years. Was there one thing you could see in retrospect coming, that you could have foreseen?

Jason Kilar

There are some things that I don’t think anyone could have predicted: that we would all be in isolation for five months, without film or TV production anywhere in the world. I don’t think anyone would have predicted that all people would work from home for most of two years. But when it comes to work and the things we were supposed 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 you’re proud of that’s inside the company that people might not be able to see outside?

Jason Kilar

Focus on the customer. The 99-year history of the company has been mostly wholesale. We create movies, TV series, documentaries, and sometimes TV channels, but then we hand these things over to other companies and they interact with the customer, the audience, the fans. And over the last two years, there has been a dramatic change in the company and strategy, and even culture, to be very customer-focused and ultimately serve them directly.

Peter Kafka

We’ve discussed your film publishing strategy in the past – transfer all your movies to streaming 2021, and this year to the mixed model, where some films first open in cinemas and some immediately. Do you think there will be places in cinemas for movies that are not superheroes and not events? Or do you think that you will go to the cinemas for Marvel and Batman and Fast and Furious and everything else you will watch at home?

Jason Kilar

I think there will be places in mainstream theaters, but not exclusively. I think the biggest spectacles worthy of IMAX will have exclusive cinematic series, albeit shorter than the industry is used to. But I think there will be enough space in theaters for romantic comedies, for nuanced dramas, but those films will not be exclusively distributed in cinemas.

Peter Kafka

I wonder, if I run a theater chain, how to convince myself to make room for a romantic comedy, when I know that the most consistent audience will be for these films about events, and maybe even horror movies. It seems that I will eventually hand over that property to big franchises.

Jason Kilar

I think you will hand over your first property to great spectacles. There is no doubt about that. But keep in mind that many of these theaters have 12, 20, 20 and more screens. So I believe that not every screen will be given to a movie about superheroes. Theaters will act in their own interest and I think it will be in their best interest to run the spectacle … but I believe the future of the industry will include 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 will be harder to watch those things in cinemas? Or that I feel good making it easier to see those things 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 a choice that I think is a good thing in the end. And for those who are invested in theatrical experience – I believe they will have it. And for those who prefer the comfort of a couch, they will have that too.

Peter Kafka

You leave WarnerMedia as it merges with Discovery. Do you think that combination will be big enough for you to compete? Or will they have to buy more things 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 believe the industry will support in large quantities. So I believe there will be additional chess moves that will happen.

Peter Kafka

What was the main thing on your to-do list that you failed to do?

Jason Kilar

I don’t know if it exists. I’ve always tried to think long-term, and the things we’ve been doing for the last two years have been about not only 2021 or 2022, but the next decade as well. We have ten-year plans.

Peter Kafka

Did you give any advice to David Zaslav and his team on what to do with the team and the plans you set?

Jason Kilar

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

Peter Kafka

Do you regret the way you acted [former CNN head] Jeff Zucker’s departure to CNN – dismissal, and the consequences of that?

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 do not regret it. As I have publicly mentioned, decisions have been made regarding CNN and I feel good about them.

You’re a CNN + judge, but when you look at what happened, just in the last 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 be what will make a difference for CNN. So I don’t regret it. [Disclosure: Recode and Vox 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 will be you and me for the next conversation.



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