Warner Bros Discovery’s DC universe and its direct-to-streaming strategy is getting a reset

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Leslie Grace attends the Warner Bros. premiere of “The Suicide Squad” at The Landmark Westwood on August 2, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.

Axelle/bauer-griffin | Movie magic | Getty Images

Warner Bros. Discovery is looking at a “reset” of its DC movie universe and is teaming up with a 10-year plan for the franchise, taking a page from Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe, CEO David Zaslav said Thursday.

The reveal comes two days after the company announced it would be shelving its direct-to-streaming DC movie “Batgirl,” surprising fans and an inside look at streaming strategy and the new no-nonsense era under recently installed Zaslav.

“We think we can build a long-term, much stronger, sustainable growth business out of DC,” Zaslav said during an earnings call Thursday when asked about the decision to cut “Batgirl.” “And as part of that, we’re going to focus on quality.”

While Zaslav didn’t explicitly comment on the quality of “Batgirl,” his statements suggest the film didn’t fit the company’s new vision of Warner Bros. or the DC franchise. Part of that vision is to re-establish a commitment to theatrical-only releases for Warner Bros. films.

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“Fortunately, by now having access to all the data, we have seen how direct-to-streaming movies perform,” Zaslav said. “And our conclusion is that expensive direct-to-streaming films… are not comparable to what happens when you launch a film in the cinema, in the cinema.”

Zaslav took over at the newly merged Warner Bros. Discovery and has prioritized cost-cutting measures and sought to refocus the company’s content strategy, taking a very different direction from former WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar, who prioritized streaming and digital media.

“For this idea of ​​expensive movies going straight to streaming, we can’t find an economic case for it,” Zaslav said. “We can’t find any economic value for it. So we’re making a strategic shift.”

While “Batgirl” had a more modest budget than its theatrical counterparts — about $90 million after the cost of Covid protocols rose — Warner Bros. Discovery, a newly minted merger between Warner Media and Discovery, has scoured its books for places to save money. Keeping the “Batgirl” movie on the shelf will allow the company to make a tax write-off as part of a broader effort to reduce overall corporate debt.

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Production of the film was completed in March and was in the early stages of editing by the directorial duo of Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah (“Bad Boys for Life”, “Ms. Marvel”), but it will not be released on the streaming service from the company. service, premiere in theaters or be sold to another studio if the company opts for the tax write-off.

Burying the film saves Warner Bros. Discovery also includes potential marketing costs and any back-end payouts in original movie contracts that may predate the merger.

Big name actors are often paid after a movie’s release based on box office marks or viewership statistics. And “Batgirl” had some big names with it: Michael Keaton reprise his role as Batman, JK Simmons was cast as Commissioner Jim Gordon, and Brendan Fraser was tapped to play the villain Firefly.

Although the stated explanation for the deletion of ‘Batgirl’ As for the changing strategies regarding feature films being released directly to streaming platforms, this still seems like a remarkable decision given how far along production was,” said Robert Thompson, a professor at Syracuse University and a pop culture expert. … burn down your house just before you pay off the mortgage.”

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The decision appears to pass “at least some judgment” on the film’s quality, Thompson said, as Warner Bros. Discovery sees no future for it in streaming or theatrical release.

But with “Batgirl” in such early stages of post-production, further editing could have solved issues with the film, in time for its planned debut in late 2022.

While shelving the film can be a financial decision, it comes with a social cost. Not only were fans of DC comics disappointed, but many wondered why the company had discontinued a project led by an Afro-Latina star, Leslie Grace.

Warner Bros. Discovery has already come under fire for not openly addressing the pending allegations against “The Flash” star Ezra Miller.

The decision to scrap “Batgirl” also raised questions about the future of other HBO Max film and television projects, with many social media subscribers fearing their favorite shows could be next on the chopping block.

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