Jason Kilar Breaks Down Massive WarnerMedia Shakeup: ‘Very Excited About Where We’re Going’

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“We have two international organizations today that are going to become one,” the CEO says, previewing upcoming layoffs

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It was a busy Friday for WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar. Just three months into his tenure leading the massive media company, he shook up WarnerMedia in a big way by rethinking how a legacy media company should operate in streaming-dominated Hollywood. Friday’s reorganization — coming just one day after NBCUniversal made a similarly earth-shattering change — breaks down the traditional walls of the studio, television and premium cable divisions and brings all content creation into one operation, while at the same time creating a separate focus on HBO Max. The move puts HBO Max at the forefront of WarnerMedia’s future, while at the same time, brings efficiencies to the rest of content creation, including blockbuster movie franchises. At the same time, the moves led to the ouster of two highly respected executives, Bob Greenblatt and Kevin Reilly, both of whom shepherded HBO Max from a fantasy into a reality. Meanwhile, Andy Forssell will lead a newly created HBO Max operating business unit  responsible for the global rollout of the subscription video on demand streaming service. Warner Bros. CEO Ann Sarnoff will head up a unified studios and networks group, which will combine all content development under one wing. And HBO programming president Casey Bloys will expand his oversight to include original content for HBO Max and Turner networks TNT, TBS and truTV. TheWrap spoke with Kilar a few hours after the massive shakeup was announced Friday morning, where he spoke about the shrinking size of theatrical windows and what it will take to get HBO Max on Roku on Amazon Fire devices. The following interview was edited and condensed for clarity. In making the announcement, you mentioned there will be “reductions in staff.” Can you say what level those reductions are going to be? There’s a part of me that just very excited about where we’re going and the changes that this portends, which I feel very, very good about. The other part of me is, this is one of the hardest days that could possibly exist, because you’re here saying goodbye to really talented colleagues. To answer your question, yes, there will be reductions. We have two international organizations today that are going to become one. In that situation, the natural decision that needs to be made that says, “OK, you’re not going to have two people doing the same thing.” You have to make the tough choice to decide who is going to be the leader in a certain area. Obviously, I had to do that, and I did that with content in terms of Ann Sarnoff. These are not easy decisions, these are not performance-oriented decisions. And those will happen and you should expect to see [more] reductions. Regarding the deal between AMC and Universal, which will allow Universal to make its movies available on streaming just 17 days after they debut in theaters, does this lead a future where theatrical exclusivity windows are a thing of the past? I very much believe we’re heading into a period where theatrical windows are shorter than they’ve historically been. I don’t think it’s controversial to say that at this point. That said, one of the things that a lot of people jump to a conclusion, which I think is wrong, is that suddenly the theatrical experience goes away. I don’t think that’s going to happen at all. There’s a lot of people on this planet, myself included, that really likes to go to a theater from time to time and be taken away for an evening in a communal setting. I really enjoy that. Now the question is going to be OK, but like, you know, what happens to the windows? What happens to exclusivity? What about the economics in the theaters and this or that? I don’t get too hung up on it, because I know it’s going to get sorted out. There has to be a business for exhibitors, we know that, because otherwise, you can’t run your business. There’s going to be sufficient economics for them to have a business. I think there will be a business because there’s consumer demand for it. I don’t get too worried about it, because I just have belief in theatrical. I believe in that experience and I know that, together, we’ll figure it out. Disney is putting Mulan on Disney+, is there any thought to Warner Bros. doing that with any of its upcoming movies like “Tenet” or “Wonder Woman 1984”? Our orientation is to lean to theatrical, for not just “Tenet” but also “Wonder Woman” and other titles. That’s our orientation at this point. I think it would be unfair for me to say that sort of any of us can predict the future and where COVID-19 goes. We’re in a very privileged position, because we have these great movies that are in our shop, and now it just comes down to the decisions that we make to be able to get them in the hands of consumers. And so, again, our orientation is theatrical and we haven’t moved off that. The question for you, and every studio, is how long can you sit on product while you wait for theaters to be back? If we were small start-up that was worrying how we were going to pay the rent next month we’d probably be thinking about it differently. But thankfully, given our balance sheet and the financial resources that we’re so lucky to have, it’s actually not a material decision to be able to be patient and be thoughtful to be able to hold the title until we feel it’s the right moment. I feel pretty good about what we’re doing right now. Make no mistake, I would love it if vaccine were announced tomorrow. Switching over to HBO Max. It’s been more than two months since its launch, but it remains off of Roku and Amazon Fire TV. What has to happen for deal to be reached? We would like to be on Roku, we would like to be on Amazon Fire devices. And the key to making that happen is two things. We all recognize that the world is better for each of us if HBO Max is on their devices. Because over time, there will be less consumers that want to buy those devices that they can’t get ‘Game of Thrones’ or DC Universe on a Fire device or on a Roku box, so it’s clearly to the interest of the device maker to have HBO max on their device. And it’s also in our interest to be on those devices too, because we want to be able to reach all customers. Now that said, I think it’s important that when you enter into a partnership or enter into an agreement for distribution, it has to be a contract that actually works for both parties. And for me, that comes down to pure economics, which really is what our focus is, which is to be treated just like Netflix or Hulu or treated.


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