The news that AT&T divested its ownership of WarnerMedia to Discovery, Inc. for $43 billion to form a new, merged entertainment company may not sound as exciting as when The Walt Disney Company acquired 21st Century Fox in 2019, but it is just as important.
Ever since AT&T acquired Time Warner for $85 billion in 2018. there were many concerns in the entertainment industry, which turned out to be justified. Renamed, WarnerMedia, the entertainment conglomerate was owned by a telecommunications giant that did not have any experience with entertainment media and this resulted in questionable moves by AT&T. The most impactful were the creation of the HBO Max streaming service and fractured relationships with notable genre directors like Christopher Nolan, Denis Villeneuve and James Gunn.
In AT&T’s quest to push HBO Max to be competitive with other streaming apps, all of the films slated for release this year by the movie studio, Warner Bros., were released simultaneously in theaters and the streaming service. On the surface, this took into account the COVID-19 pandemic and the fact that most movie theaters were closed. However, now that the pandemic seems to be winding down (at least in the United States and Europe), this strategy has been questioned. Not only did this move result in diminished box office returns, but it alienated many of Warner Bros.’ top talent.
This first began when Wonder Woman 1984 was streamed on Christmas Day in 2020 instead of delaying the film’s release because of the pandemic. This worked in that it attracted attention (and subscribers) to the streaming app but the film received negative reactions from critics and fans who did not find much original content on HBO Max. Unlike Disney+ or Apple+, HBO Max lacked an attention-grabbing genre TV show like The Mandalorian or For All Mankind to entice fans to stay with the service. The app did stream TV shows that once exclusively streamed on the DC Universe app like Titans and Doom Patrol. But it is baffling that throughout all of the development of the app, no one thought to have an original DC TV show ready. The closest thing to semi-original content being Zack Snyder’s Justice League, which did not stream until this year, months after the app was launched. While Disney+ already streamed the Marvel properties WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, HBO Max has yet to stream original DC content. Its announced Green Lantern TV show seems to be forever in development.
It shoud be noted HBO Max premiered the sci-fi TV show Raised by Wolves when it launched and while it was well done the TV show did not capture much attention. It is a shame because the streaming service is quite good with plenty of content, but its launch was botched and confused people who already subscribed to HBO or used its then-existing apps HBO Now and HBO Go.
Filmmakers such as Nolan and Villeneuve were incensed that films they specifically shot for large screens were to be directly streamed on HBO Max. Not only would this lead to low box office returns but the decision robbed audiences of seeing films meant for the large screens. Denis Villeneuve and Legendary Pictures (the production company which bankrolled Villeneuve’s Dune, Godzilla vs. Kong and other recent genre films) expressed their dissatisfaction to push the streaming service over Warner Bros.’ film schedule. After all, in light of the pandemic, if one is able to access the app, why bother going to the theaters? As it now stands the following genre films either streamed already will do so later this year:
- Wonder Woman 1984
- Godzilla vs. Kong
- Mortal Kombat
- The Witches
- The Suicide Squad
- The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It
- Space Jam: A New Legacy
- the fourth Matrix film
WarnerMedia recently announced that starting in 2022, its films would be released solely in theaters before coming to HBO Max. But the damage has been done as many filmmakers openly expressed their dissatisfaction with WarnerMedia and some were no longer willing to do films for Warner Bros.
Meanwhile the fate of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) is up in the air after the failure of high-profile films like Justice League, even though some recent DCEU properties like Zack Snyder’s Justice League and Aquaman were very well received. However, the DCEU has a dedicated fan base who vocalized their dismay at the idea of the DCEU being abandoned given films like Joker and next year’s The Batman did not take place in the DCEU. Cementing this further was the news that Warner Bros. tapped J.J. Abrams to do a reboot of Superman that does not involve Henry Cavill, the popular actor who portrayed Superman in the DCEU.
Now, what will happen with this merger? Will the DCEU get a reprieve? For now do not expect any immediate changes. The merger with Discovery will take some time and what is in production now won’t be affected. But a year or two from now expect a reassessment of the DC properties, including the comic books. Already some fans are panicking online that this is the death of DC Comics but that is unlikely. The comic book medium may not be as profitable as film or TV or games but they do provide rich material and the basis for new characters and plot lines. It would be foolish to do away with comic books altogether, which was a distinct possibility if WarnerMedia remained with AT&T, which cared about the bottom line.
Discovery, Inc. has a reputation for listening to their creators and letting them lead. The CEO of the company, David Zaslav will be in charge of the new company (the name of the merger of WarnerMedia and Discovery, Inc. is unknown at this time) and many hope he will bring new changes and executives. The TV shows in Discovery, Inc. are mostly popular reality programs and its been said that Zaslav and his executive tend to have a hands-off approach which would be great for Warner Bros. For all we know, the new company will fastrack development of original DC content for theaters, TV shows and streaming. Perhaps, the company will develop the DC properties to their full potential to the point they become true competitors to Disney and its genre properties like Star Wars and Marvel. Heck, maybe even the Monsterverse and other genre properties like Harry Potter will get the attention they deserve, as well. We shall see.
It’ll be interesting to see where things go, I do hope it means the international roll out of HBO Max is accelerated.
The international launch of HBO Max was certainly botched up which is regrettable because the app is actually well done with great content. Hopefully they will have it figured out before too long.
I think this merger could be a positive thing all round for comics and the films. It will result in more of a streamlined range of comics and film franchises, hopefully this will give more focus and direction to the films as well. I expect the DCEU, despite its resurgence with the Snyder Cut, will gradually be phased out completely and the newer movies and TV shows will become more consolidated as whole. As for DC Comics, well I feel changes are on the cards, perhaps less focus on floppies and more on trade collections going forward (something I think all comic publishers will move towards in time). Also the roll out of HBO Max is bound to be accelerated as there’s been so much invested in it already and it seems extremely popular.
It is certain that many executives will come and go and let’s hope the next Kevin Feige will arise because the DC films need someone like him.
As for the floppies, expect less titles to come out in print and whatever decision is made will send shock waves throughout the comics industry.