Though a formal change of power is still six months away, Warner Bros. studio is already in full transition mode, with the outlines of a new strategy emerging from the fading days of the Alan Horn era.
Jeff Robinov, poised to become co-president of the media conglomerate, along with Kevin Tsujihara and Bruce Rosenblum, has been busy meeting with the broad swath of executives who will soon be reporting to him as the full-on head of the movie studio.
Meanwhile, Horn remains in limbo, cut from a team where he was long the leader. Few believe he will stay actively in his position at the studio beyond Febuary or so.
In preparation for his new role, Robinov (pictured with "Due Date" director Todd Phillips) has been sketching the outlines of a new strategy that involves producing fewer movies overall and more tentpoles annually, according to people familiar with his thinking.
That is what most of the major studios have been doing over the past few years, but Robinov wants Warner's to pursue that path even more decisively.
His preference would be to churn out eight blockbuster franchise pictures a year, a notable increase from the current output of four to six. One or two of those would be expected to come out of DC Comics, the comic-book division that has been gearing up for this purpose.
“This makes more economic sense,” explained one knowledgeable executive who declined to speak on the record. “You can make better talent deals on bigger movies, which leaves more upside on the back end.”
Presuming Warner's Chairman and CEO Barry Meyer plans to support his executive of choice, Warner’s will become the central locomotive of the industry’s blockbuster factory, moving further away from mid-level budgeted movies in the $30-$70 million range. Fewer “Hereafters” or even “Hangovers.”
And, one supposes, no more “Million Dollar Babys.”
In preparation for the shift, Warner’s has been putting its shoulder behind DC Comics, led by Diane Nelson. The division has moved most of its executives from New York to Burbank, where they are tasked with developing not just franchises like “Superman” and “Green Lantern” but new monetization strategies for these titles, particularly online.
WB is already well-stocked with franchises. Its deal with DC Comics will lead to Christopher Nolan's highly anticipated "The Dark Knight Rises," Zack Snyder's untitled "Superman" movie and Martin Campbell's upcoming "Green Lantern," which stars Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively.
But to succeed at this presumes a whole lot of intellectual property, and the audience to consume it. This is also a particularly daunting challenge with the reliable "Harry Potter" on its way out.
Still, from a business standpoint it's hard to argue with this strategy. Warners has become the expert in producing, marketing and fully monetizing big properties.
And the studio has learned that economically it is advantageous to pay more money up front for talent like Leonardo DiCaprio, and take more profit from the back end.
Meyer has not yet signed off on this direction shift, which will mean dedicating more Time Warner capital to movie production, but presumably he will do so to support his new leader of choice.