Warner Bros Discovery’s (WBD) international head Gerhard Zeiler has stressed the company’s commitment to theatrical releases at the RTS Convention in London, telling delegates “the theatrical business is here to stay.”
“Everyone who ever believed that the theatrical business, the cinema, is dead has been proven wrong so many times and will be proved wrong in the future,” said Zeiler.
Zeiler acknowledged the pandemic has changed the market: “Not everyone is still feeling safe to go back to the cinema – it has to be a big film. When I look at the number of film releases, you have less movies in the cinema, but the big ones have much better success than anyone would have forecast before. So it’s about ‘must-have’ when it comes to the feature film strategy.”
Zeiler, who was made president of international after the merger between WarnerMedia and Discovery, added: “When you are invested in so many genres and tell stories in so many ways, from our point of view it makes sense that your distribution strategy is very broad based. That is the reason we say: 100% yes to the theatrical business – we believe in exclusive windows for feature films.”
Zeiler’s comments echo those of WBD chief David Zaslav who has spoken recently about the importance of theatrical releases for films such as Elvis and The Batman.
Zeiler also highlighted growing series franchises around its established content brands as a “key task” for success. Zeiler said WBD’s priority is to “develop more” within brands such as Game Of Thrones, Harry Potter and the DC Universe rather than increase the number of its brands.
“We’re happy with our brands. Where we will develop more is the world of franchises,” he said. “Think of Game Of Thrones - House Of The Dragon as one spin-off, maybe there will be more. We have to maintain the shiny quality of [our] brands.”
Zeiler said profitability has replaced subscriber gains as the primary measure of success, echoing comments by chief exec David Zaslav.
“It’s a competition now but global subs is not the only KPI. We have to prove to investors that…we have financial responsibility,” he added.
The solution is providing a “must-have” service by securing the best creators through supporting a culture in which they feel it is a “safe place to make [their] show”.
This combines global tentpoles and a strong local programming strategy.
“If you want to be a global company you need … to complement big hits with local, relevant stories,” he said. “If you stick to a certain culture where you make great storytelling possible, the chances of success [are greater]. If we deliver must-have content, I’m not worried about our future.”
He referenced HBO Max Spanish originals sci-fi horror thriller 30 Coins, drama Patria and documentary Save the King, which has proved popular beyond their originating country.
Sky / HBO Max
Zeiler talked up the long-standing HBO distribution relationship with Sky but hinted that it may not be extended beyond its 2025 term to make way for the domestic rollout of its HBO Max SVoD.
Directly addressing Sky UK and Europe chief exec Stephen van Rooyen, who was sitting in the front row of the audience, he said: “One day, we will probably want to have a streaming service in the UK, outside of Discovery+.”
Tim Dams contributed to this story.
A version of this story first appeared on Screen’s sister site Broadcast