Code Confab: Jason Kilar Has Lots of Regrets

WarnerMedia is entering the final quarter of an unconventional year that has seen the media company upend its theatrical release strategy for streaming (HBO Max), while parent AT&T plans to relinquish operational control of the company to a third-party (Discovery) in 2022 for $43 billion.

That’s a lot on the plate of CEO Jason Kilar, who was further scrutinized about it all Sept. 28 at Vox Media’s Code Conference in Beverly Hills, Calif. In a Q&A with MSNBC’s Stephanie Rhule, Kilar again defended and apologized for his decision to simultaneously release Warner Bros. Pictures’ entire 2021 movie slate free to Max subscribers.

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The abrupt move, which started Christmas Day 2020 with Wonder Woman 1984, helped jumpstart Max’s sluggish subscriptions — at the expense of some movie directors, producers and talent. HBO and HBO Max had 47 million combined subs at the end of June — up more than 10 million from the previous-year period.

“We endeavored to do the right thing in terms of communication,” Kilar said. “But I would be the first one to say, and the responsibility rests on my shoulders, that in hindsight, we should have taken the better part of a month to have over 170 conversations, which is the number of participants that are in our 2021 film slate.”

In reality, Kilar said Warner Bros. spent a less than week outlining the move — a decision that didn’t sit well within the industry, and reportedly led some calls for the Directors Guild of America to boycott the studio. Longtime studio director Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Trilogy, Tenet) has taken his next project to Universal Pictures.

Meanwhile, with Discovery CEO David Zaslav set to run the new “Warner Bros. Discovery” company next year, Kilar acknowledged his time at the controls is winding down. While no word on Kilar’s employment status has been made, the former Hulu chief executive admitted he was disappointed the job wouldn’t last another decade or two.

“But that’s not the way corporate America works,” he said.

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