The Warner Bros. Discovery merger is the best thing that could have happened for Marvel and Disney.
In a world slowly emerging from the pandemic in which movie theater chains were brought to their breaking point and streaming asserted its dominance, what you want to do — especially if you have the amount of recognizable franchises and the huge backlog of content Warner Bros. has — is embrace a streaming-first model in which you manage your own streaming platform and set your own monthly rate, stocking it with regular new releases to keep people hooked. This is not to say that the theater release model is dead, it’s still something studios should include in order to diversify their income, but not every film is best suited for a theatrical release, and only superhero films seem to do remarkably well, bar a few exceptions such as “Top Gun: Maverick.”
So it shocked many when not only when Discovery CEO David Zaslav was tapped to take over the newly-merged company over Warner Bros. CEO Jason Kilar (as Kilar put it, a small fish ate a big fish), which signaled a complete rejection of Kilar’s HBO Max strategy, which has proved successful. To date, HBO Max has proven itself as an essential streaming service with perhaps the best backlog of old content than any other platform, and it has an excellent selection of new content such as “Peacemaker” and “Euphoria” that makes the platform consistently engaging. I was skeptical of HBO Max’s same-day streaming strategy for theatrical films, but it was the right move at a time when public confidence in the safety of theaters was low due to COVID-19, and it ultimately convinced me to subscribe to the service.
Zaslav’s strategy to permanently shelve the likes of “Batgirl” and “Scoob! 2” in order to get tax write-offs and his insistence to go back to a theater-centric business strategy shows a complete lack of understanding of where the industry is right now and where it’s going, and shows early signs that he’s not the guy who should be leading Warner Bros. Discovery.
Warner Bros. corporate decisions, especially when it came to its DC properties, have not been perfect, especially the catastrophic messes that were “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” “Suicide Squad,” and “Justice League,” but it’s gotten to a point where its projects hold intrigue; you never know what you’ll get, which has been refreshing. The main issue with Warner Bros. is it just hasn’t been able to successfully get enough films out there to compete with Marvel, with many projects languishing in production hell for years, like Ezra Miller’s “Flash” movie. Given Miller’s terrible behavior and string of scandals, that is the film they should’ve canceled, not “Batgirl.”
What Warner Bros. needs is someone like Kevin Feige to competently produce new series and films under their many valuable IPs that have boundless potential for success. but haven’t been able to become powerhouse franchise in the modern era. The Wizarding World/Harry Potter franchise is a great example of one such property that has languished because Warner has not produced it with a stern and steady hand and a clear vision as to what its most recent films will build up to.
I have no doubt that Zaslav is a competent steward of Discovery and its properties — under his leadership it and Discovery Plus has grown far larger than I thought it could. But Warner Bros. and its properties are a different beast, and like it or not, the “Warner Bros.” part of Warner Bros. Discovery is a whole lot more valuable and more successful than its “Discovery” part.
This merger should have been reflective of that. The company’s impressively bad earnings report that fundamentally misunderstands what both HBO Max and Discovery Plus do well shows that Warner Bros. Discovery’s leadership doesn’t know what they’re doing and will likely be pressured to backpaddle in the wake of not only the public backlash, but also common sense.
The competition — namely Amazon, Netflix and Disney — aren’t drastically cutting content, they’re still making big investments in their streaming platforms, while also catering to legacy theatrical releases in some fashion (moreso Disney than the others). If Warner Bros. Discovery commits to or doubles down on this terrible tax write-off/theatrical release-centric business model, it will only create corporate chaos and make it much harder for their properties to produce new installment that will catch fire.
This merger unfortunately continues the trend of Warner Bros. being their own worst enemy. Perhaps their biggest misstep of the last 20 years was their botched launch of the DC cinematic universe, and their insistence to keep their very successful DC TV properties separate from their films, something Marvel kind of did away with in the Defendersverse Netflix shows, and has fully done away with in their MCU Disney Plus shows that have been the invaluable core of Disney Plus. Superhero films have been the biggest genre in the past decade, and Warner has needlessly stifled their ability to capture a large portion of that market.
While the DCEU did see brighter days with the likes of “Wonder Woman,” “Aquaman,”and “Shazam!,” it never fully shook off the trainwreck that was “Batman v. Superman,” which is mostly attributed to the cinematic universe’s anemic stream of releases of standalone films. This merger poses to further cripple Warner properties and whatever will become of HBO Max.
I think that there is a real possibility that post merger, Warner Bros. Discovery will see catastrophic failure, which will no doubt put them in prime position to be acquired by Disney. It’s still early, but I don’t see any way Warner Bros. Discovery succeeds under their current course of action. Instead of moving forward, it seems like they’re trying to go back to the past, regardless of the fact that streaming has changed how we consume film and TV shows forever.
Disney’s enigmatic rise in the 21st century sends a clear message to major film studios, especially after its acquisition of Fox: Get your house in order, or the Mouse House will buy you and do it for you. Unless they change course, I think it’s likely Warner Bros. Discovery will join the likes of Fox, which will benefit consumers by means of ensuring consistent quality productions come out of the studio, but will inch Disney closer to monopoly.