NOTE: My response is an attempt to gather the disparate news stories about the Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) merger into one place. The reality is ugly, but I’ll try to explain WHY they may have made many of these decisions. I remain a fan of many Warner properties as well as their teams, and I appreciate their efforts during this tumultuous time.
As previously mentioned, Warner Bros. is a corporate off-shoot of AT&T. Discovery is a branch of that same tree. Neither can truly merge into AT&T properly lest antitrust suits from the government threaten to break up the entire company. That said, Discovery and Warner Bros. CAN merge into one entity while remaining separate from their parent company.
As with any company merge, repetitive roles and redundant waste need to be purged, so layoffs are shrinking departments down to a manageable size. Likewise, Discovery and Warner Bros. both need to give up parts of their identities in order to fully assimilate. Consequently, HBO Max has become WBD’s streaming platform, and Discovery+ will be absorbed. In exchange, Discovery got to name the new head executive, choosing David Zaslav.
Zaslav is head of this huge media congolmarate, so, while he’s responsible for the big decisions, he’s not completely culpable for every detail of every recent headline. He’s only mostly culpable. His tenure in entertainment dates back to the late 80’s, and he pushed new growth and innovation in cable television (he helped foster the Sci-Fi Channel and TLC during their heights). That said, he has been reluctant to adapt to the streaming world.
This likely was the main reason behind Batgirl getting canceled: Though it’d finished production, Batgirl was to be a streaming-only release. In shelving the project, as well as cutting dozens of HBO Max’s low-performing shows (Once again, please watch Infinity Train), Zaslav presumably hoped to take tax write-offs (estimated around $3 Billion) and avoid future royalty payments to creatives. Meanwhile, little of Discovery+ has been trimmed because reality and non-fiction programming have fewer professionals involved. Polar bears, after all, don’t have monetary stipulations.
The problem here, however, is optics. HBO and HBO Max have slowly yet steadily built a reputation for championing diverse, artistic voices. They take chances and follow through on creators’ visions. While Discovery DOES have worthwhile content, they’re also home to conspiracy-baiting shows like Ancient Aliens and Ghost Adventures.
The move plays like a repeat of the cable reality boom of the late ’00s/early ’10s. Bloated, redundant variations of the same reality premise are deluged upon the viewer because, against prestige narrative programming, it’s comparatively cheap. When WBD DOES go big, it will be with proven material that tracks well.
These decisions, isolated in a sterile environment, make sense. In practice, however, they’ve been disastrous. Before the merger, Warner Bros. fired Johnny Depp from the Fantastic Beasts series and blacklisted him from future projects. Post merge, Amber Heard still has a sizable role in Aquaman 2. Financially, it doesn’t make sense to reshoot a competent, finished movie; optically, society sees the move as an infuriating double standard.
The same is true with the upcoming Flash movie. The completed film was screened for test audiences and tied for the highest score in the studio’s 100-year history. Its equal? The Dark Knight. Canning this movie would be fiscal lunacy, but its star, Ezra Miller, has recently gone on an assault and kidnapping spree. Not canning the movie–or at least reshooting it–is morally abhorrent. Even worse, keeping this movie on schedule while cutting Batgirl sets yet another double standard.
As for hiring new blood, WBD is angling their news network, CNN, to capture more moderate viewers. They are also looking to retire heads of various departments. Yet again, this makes financial sense–cable news viewers are aging, and CNN would be wise to appeal to that sector. Cutting department heads can save money as well because long-term employees are rewarded for their loyalty with raises; new blood won’t require the same salary.
In practice, though, CNN’s right-wing hires have all been older white men while many of the shuffled department-head roles belonged to women. This pattern may not be consciously misogynistic, but it certainly comes off that way.
Both Wall Street and Hollywood apparently agree: for a supposed $3 Billion tax credit, WBD has lost an estimated $20 Billion in market cap!
I haven’t even covered DC comics inability to fill their chief film role nor Warner Bros. latest debacle over its September release, Don’t Worry, Darling–a movie whose stars refuse to talk to each other and may have spit on one another.
Laid back-to-back, these results imply a lack of human consideration. Yes, Hollywood studios aren’t running a charity, so sometimes their decisions may feel ice-cold, but a media-communications conglomerate like WBD should know that its business is people.
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