Asked during this morning’s AT&T quarterly earnings call about his current view of movie release strategy, WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar declared, “The motion picture format absolutely matters.”
The entertainment unit posted strong second-quarter numbers, with revenue rising 31%, helping the parent company easily beat Wall Street estimates. A key area of focus, streaming service HBO Max, added 2.8 million subscribers along with regular HBO in the quarter. Together, they have 47 million subscribers in the U.S.
One major driver of subscriptions has been a subject of controversy and consternation in Hollywood: Warner Bros releasing its entire 2021 slate on HBO Max at the same time it arrives in theaters. As time has passed, the landmark decision has appeared to be less radical than it initially seemed, but the ultimate impact on the box office and windowing is still coming into focus.
“I certainly don’t see us going back to the way the world was in 2015 or ’16 or ’17, where windows were quite lengthy,” Kilar said. A 45-day theatrical exclusive is expected for select Warner Bros titles in 2022, though the studio will also produce at least 10 films that will premiere day-and-date on HBO Max and in theaters. “I think what you’re going to see is this industry continue to evolve and to continue to innovate in a way that not only works for consumers and fans but also works for our business partners.”
The company had initially projected producing 8 to 10 original films a year for HBO Max in an announcement in February 2020, before the pandemic and the day-and-date shift.
In a separate interview with Deadline after the earnings call, WarnerMedia EVP and GM of Direct-to-Consumer Andy Forssell said the presence of feature films on HBO Max was a big help in customer acquisitions.
“We are learning more and more about the interplay of feature films and episodic programming,” Forssell said. “And we’re getting better about marrying up and handing off” from one to the other. An early example how the two verticals can combine to benefit the whole came when Wonder Woman 1984 premiered in December. Many new viewers who watched the film then checked out Max Original series The Flight Attendant.
Production across the industry is still in the process of returning to normal levels after the widespread shutdowns of Covid-19. That has left even dominant players like Netflix with a thinner supply of programming. Forssell said the second quarter saw five Warner Bros releases, which he said helped offset a depleted supply of series. Non-film standouts in the period included the Friends reunion, Max Original series Hacks and HBO’s Mare of Easttown. The “combination of great, weighty film and fantastically attractive series” should only increase in coming quarters as production ramps up, he said.
HBO Max has begun to roll out internationally, reaching Latin America in late-June. Kilar said he was “feeling good about the launch,” but he declined to offer any specifics in terms of how many existing HBO customers had embraced HBO Max.
AT&T CFO Pascal Desroches said during the call that the launch of the streaming service in select European territories would be delayed until 2022, but the company nevertheless raised its guidance for subscribers to 70 million to 73 million by the end of 2021. Asked for clarification, Forssell said, “I wouldn’t read too much into” the European delays, affirming that the multi-year outlook remains intact. WarnerMedia is forecasting 120 million to 150 million global subscribers by 2025.