Theater Owners Chief Praises David Zaslav for Commitment to Theatrical Release

CinemaCon 2022: “Watch what Warner Bros. does in the next three years,” NATO’s John Fithian said

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National Association of Theater Owners President/CEO John Fithian praised Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav for his commitment to theatrical releasing during Monday’s earnings call.

“You’re seeing the newest CEO in the business, after having studied the market for a year, describe the business model perfectly as far as we’re concerned,” Fithian told reporters at a Tuesday press conference. “If you get a movie that works well theatrically and pops, it has a window, it also means it helps that movie do better when it hits the home on streaming.”

Last year, Warner Bros. was one of the studios leading experiments with day-and-date releasing, putting all 2021 films on HBO Max and in theaters simultaneously as a way to handle the uncertainty of theaters reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the time of the announcement, Warner Bros. insisted that the day-and-date program was only a short-term response to the pandemic and that it would return to theatrical exclusivity in 2022. This past month, the studio made good on that promise with the DC blockbuster “The Batman,” which passed $750 million at the global box office with a 45-day theatrical exclusive window. Its success was one of the reasons why Fithian declared day-and-date to be “dead as a serious business model” to the CinemaCon crowd.

Though Zaslav isn’t at CinemaCon, his Q1 earnings call comments about the theatrical window echoed those spoken by Fithian and other theater execs regarding how essential they are to the financial success of movies.

“When you open a movie in theaters, it has a whole stream of monetization. More importantly, it’s marketed. It builds a brand so when it does go to a streaming service there’s a view that (the film) has a higher quality that benefits the streaming service,” he said.

Prior to the Warner Bros. Discovery merger, insiders at Warner Bros. told TheWrap that the studio had been leaning towards a strategy where its theatrical slate would predominantly consist of franchise blockbusters with a few smaller films on the side, while more mature films like “The Goldfinch” or “Motherless Brooklyn” — both of which flopped for Warner at the box office in 2019 — would be produced as exclusives for HBO Max.

But Fithian, who says he has met with Zaslav in recent weeks, expressed confidence that Warner’s theatrically exclusive slate would remain robust in the coming years.

“Watch what Warner Bros. does the next three years. I think you’re going to see more theatrical content with windows,” he said. “Yes, there are going to be movies that need to be made for streamers and for HBO Max, and that’s a good thing. The consumer knows the difference as we’re moving into the future. That’s what the major studios are showing is that they know the consumers know the difference.”