In media interviews following his April 1 hiring announcement, Jason Kilar, former founding CEO of Hulu and new boss at WarnerMedia Entertainment, said the next 10 years matter more for him than the previous 85 years. Kilar, who helped start Hulu in 2007, left the streaming service in 2013 to start an ad-supported video platform called Vessel, which was shuttered in 2016.
“I actually believe this isn’t about WarnerMedia; it’s as much about Disney and NBCUniversal and others,” Kilar told Variety. “I actually think these companies are going to look so different within the next decade out of necessity and out of opportunity.”
Strong words for a newcomer working for a company whose name and content library are all about legacy. But, then, the 48-year-old Kilar’s career has largely focused on emerging technology within the entertainment space.
Kilar, who begins his position on May 1, was also instrumental in launching Hulu Plus, which enabled viewers to pay extra to gain access to the most recently televised episodes in addition all episodes from every past season.
“We are still in the early innings of customers worldwide starting to watch content on demand,” Kilar said. “Under the hood from a tech standpoint, it’s very important to get that right, invest in it. Those are the two very important things.”
Kilar joins WarnerMedia as it readies the May launch of HBO Max during a global virus pandemic when domestic unemployment claims skyrocket and household discretionary spending comes to a halt. Kilar believes the lower cost of digital distribution bodes well during economic turbulence.
“The tech is hard to do but once you get it right, the cost of distribution in a tech environment like digital, is that variable costs are so small it allows you to go global,” he said.
At the same time, Kilar said he respects the value of existing distribution channels, calling the expedited release of some theatrical releases into retail channels a “necessity” due to theaters shutting down worldwide.
In an interesting note, Kilar said his early days at Amazon included melding existing video technology with e-commerce.
“I wrote the business plan for Amazon getting into the video retail business,” he said. “VHS. Everyone wrote off the VHS business when the DVD showed up on the scene, but the value of VHS business was incredibly robust.”
Indeed, Amazon reportedly only stopped selling VHS titles in 2019, transferring ASIN#’s (Amazon Standard Identification Numbers) applied to VHS to related DVDs or Blu-ray Discs.