Jason Kilar Exits CEO Position at WarnerMedia

Ahead of the official completion of Discovery’s acquisition of WarnerMedia from AT&T and launch of Warner Bros. Discovery on April 11, CEO Jason Kilar has announced his departure — about two years after joining the company. The former Hulu CEO made the announcement April 5 in a memo to WarnerMedia staff. Discovery CEO David Zaslav is expected assume operational control of the new company.

“With the pending transaction with Discovery nearing close, now is the right time to share with each of you that I will be departing this amazing company,” Kilar wrote.

A true believer in digital distribution across alternative channels, Kilar, as CEO of WarnerMedia, streamlined company operations, most notably at Warner Bros., and pushed forward with the controversial decision to release Warner’s entire 2021 theatrical slate concurrently on HBO Max — a strategy that began with Wonder Woman 1984 on Dec. 25, 2020.

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While the strategy jumpstarted HBO Max subscriptions and initially appeared not to negatively impact pandemic-era box office revenue, as 2021 rolled on and theaters expanded seating capacity, Warner titles suffered selling tickets.

The decision — driven by shuttered theaters during the pandemic — upended Hollywood’s traditional theatrical window distribution, catching many studio executives and producers — whose compensation was based on theatrical — off guard. Kilar later apologized for not better communicating the strategy to all parties involved.

In his staff memo, Kilar conveyed his love for “this team, this company, and this mission” at WarnerMedia.

“I’ve never been more fulfilled professionally. I’ve never been happier professionally. This team — and what we’ve built together — are the reasons for that.”

Kilar told the staff it had help elevate technology, product, and design to the highest levels at WarnerMedia.

“It has been deeply gratifying to lean into the future alongside each of you and to do so with conviction,” he wrote. “Leading this team has been the honor of my lifetime. My heart is so full, and I am beyond thankful to each of you. There is no better team on the planet, and I will savor every last step as I wander the lot in Burbank several more times this week, with this team on my mind, always.”

Jason Kilar: ‘The Batman’ Movie Streaming on HBO Max April 19, 2022

The Batman, Warner Bros. Pictures’ reboot of the venerable superhero franchise featuring Robert Pattinson as the newest caped crusader, is set to begin streaming on HBO Max on April 19, 2022. The Matt Reeves-directed movie hits theaters on March 4.

The release dates were reiterated by WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar in a recent Vox’s Recode podcast — the executive’s second Q&A session in 2021.

With WarnerMedia’s controversial 2021 day-and-date theatrical/Max distribution strategy in its final days, the media company is looking to implement an industry-standard 45-day exclusive theatrical window for its box office slate in 2022. That includes pending DC’s Black Adam, The Flash, and separately, Elvis, among others.

“I feel really, really good knowing that [those movies], and a whole host of other movies, are literally going to be showing up on day 46 on Max in a variety of territories all over the world,” Kilar said. “That is a very, very big change that I don’t think people appreciate, and I feel really good about it.”

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Indeed, HBO traditionally does not have access to theatrical titles for at least eight months after their box office runs.

Kilar, who is likely to exit his position at WarnerMedia after its sale to Discovery passes regulatory approval sometime next year, said the concurrent release strategy has helped drive Max subscriptions — while at times undermining a non-blockbuster film’s box office potential. Warner’s last weekend box office winner was Godzilla vs. Kong on March 31.

“Think about when movies [used to show] up on HBO,” Kilar said. “That is a huge change from where things were in 2018, 2017, 2016.”

CEO Jason Kilar: HBO Max, Max AVOD Platforms to Have Content Parity in January 2022

Since launching the ad-supported HBO Max platform in June, the less-expensive $9.99 monthly plan versus the ad-free $14.99 option has seen significant viewer traction, WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar said on the Oct. 21 AT&T investor call.

The Max AVOD option, which launched with about $80 million in upfront advertising support, does not include same-day access to Warner Bros. Pictures theatrical releases. That will change in late January 2022 when Warner Bros. reverts back to a 45-day theatrical window on most major releases. Max launches next week in six European countries.

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“We’ve been happy with the [Max AVOD] launch not only in terms of the absolute response in subscribers, but also because advertising helps lower the price and increase the value for an HBO Max subscription,” Kilar said. “We see it as strategic.”

The executive said Warner is the only studio to release 18 movies in theaters and on streaming in the past 12+ months during the pandemic. With pending releases The Matrix Resurrections, King Richard and Dune not streaming on the AVOD option, Kilar said parity between the platforms would occur in 2022 when Max and Max AVOD have access to select Warner theatrical titles on day one.

WarnerMedia launched its controversial day-and-date theatrical/Max streaming strategy on Dec. 25, 2020, with the release of Wonder Woman 1984. 

Kilar again defended his decision to simultaneously release Warner theatrical movies on streaming, saying such a decision was the result of “being in the middle of a pandemic” that had seen most theaters operating at limited capacity or closed.

“We’ve been very much leading, and the first over the wall in terms of bringing our 2021 slate to customers in a way that can work for them, but can also work for exhibition and our participants,” he said.  “What we’ve learned is that motion pictures continue to matter. We feel very good about the quarter and where things are going.”

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.

Jason Kilar: Warner Bros. Producing 10 More Theatrical Releases Streaming Concurrently on HBO Max in 2022

WarnerMedia made headlines releasing the entire 2021 Warner Bros. theatrical slate concurrently on HBO Max for a movie’s first 31 days of release.

WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar, speaking on the company’s July 22 fiscal call, said the controversial strategy through six months reveals the enduring importance of the box office ($463 million in revenue domestically through June 30) coupled with the impact technology has made on distribution.

“Clearly motion pictures matter and will continue to matter when it comes to theatrical exhibition,” Kilar said. “They also matter at home, and absolutely in terms of the response that we’ve gotten … from all of our day-and-date titles. We feel very good about the response that consumers have given it in the home.”

Jason Kilar

As the exhibition business turns the page on the pandemic and more moviegoers are vaccinated, Kilar, who is on tap to remain CEO of WarnerMedia into next year heading into the completion of the Discovery merger, doesn’t anticipate movie distribution returning to the lengthy theatrical window.

He said that while some Warner titles in 2022 will have a 45-day window, the studio is also going to be producing more than 10 movies that will be available on HBO Max and in theaters on day one.

“I think that what you’re going to see is this industry continues to evolve, and to continue to innovate in ways that not only works for consumers and fans, but also works for our business partners,” Kilar said.

Separately, AT&T CEO John Stankey said the telecom has heard nothing from federal regulators regarding the merger that will transform WarnerMedia into Warner Bros. Discovery and see Discovery CEO Davis Zaslav running the unit.

Stankey said the regulatory process involves document production and providing information that’s responsive to the government’s requests to begin the reviews.

“No news is good news,” he said. “I’ll tell you internally, all the normal steps are going on to be prepared operationally for when we would expect an approval. It’s not a complicated transaction.”

Reed Hastings Wants Rival HBO Max on Weekly Nielsen Chart

Netflix co-founder/co-CEO Reed Hastings has made a career thinking outside the box. But when it comes to quantifying streaming video on the household TV, Hastings apparently opts for old-school Nielsen — a brand synonymous with broadcast ratings.

Responding to Nielsen’s June 18 market report that found streaming video use across all television homes in May climbed to 26% of total viewer spent watching TV, Hastings seemed surprised that pay-TV and broadcast combined still dominate viewership time.

Indeed, Netflix captured just 6% of total TV viewing time, on par with YouTube TV, but ahead of Hulu (3%), Amazon Prime Video (2%) and Disney+ (1%).

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“Wild that most TV time in USA is still legacy linear,” Hastings tweeted on social media. “Stream team needs to up its game.”

Hastings added that he wished HBO Max was included in the results. Max is noticeably absent from Nielsen’s weekly Top 10 streaming charts, which include Disney+, Prime Video and Hulu — and is regularly dominated by SVOD pioneer Netflix.

“@jasonkilar we need you on the board too,” Hastings tweeted in reference to WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar.

Kilar, the founding CEO of Hulu, responded (with lots emojis) that WarnerMedia was indeed represented in the Nielsen chart, albeit in dominating linear TV.  Kilar, who plans to remain in his position into 2022 following Discovery’s acquisition of WarnerMedia, said HBO Max has been the strongest growing domestic SVOD service in 2021.

HBO and HBO Max ended the most-recent fiscal period with 44 million combined subscribers, including 11.1 million Max subs since the service launched a year ago.

“@WarnerMedia is already on the board strongly in that largest green pie piece Reed (TNT, TBS, CNN, HBO, CN …). Proud to serve customers in whatever way they choose,” Kilar tweeted.”  Slightly smiling faceThumbs up “Fun to also be the crazy fast(est) growing upstart in @hbomax (2 Qs straight of 2.5M+ U.S. sub adds).” Fisted handClapper board

 

WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar to Stay at Helm into 2022

WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar will remain with the former Time Warner for the next 12 months into 2022. The former Hulu boss, who was hired in April 2020 to spearhead WarnerMedia’s streaming initiatives, was largely absent within AT&T’s decision to spin-off a minority stake in WarnerMedia to Discovery, whose CEO, David Zaslav, will take charge of WarnerMedia upon completion of the merger.

In a May 27 companywide address hailing the one-year anniversary of the launch of streaming service HBO Max, Kilar said he had no plans to exit the company this year.

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“My plan and my focus is to remain here in my CEO role at WarnerMedia,” Kilar told staffers in the town hall. “I am not thinking right now about post-merger. There will be a time to consider that topic in 2022.”

While AT&T and Discovery executives lauded Kilar for his accomplishments during the M&A announcement, there has been no word about the executive’s role going forward.

“Because I believe we have unfinished business, the work of the next year can and should be extremely fulfilling as the world continues to see what we are capable of doing,” Kilar said.

 

Is There Hope for Warner Bros. After Three Miserable Years Under AT&T?

The stunning announcement that AT&T wants to unload WarnerMedia and merge it with Discovery strikes me as a long overdue admission by the giant telecom that when it acquired what was then Time Warner less than three years ago, it had absolutely no idea what the hell it was doing.

Similar to Verizon Communications ditching Yahoo and AOL, the AT&T move amounts to a belated cancellation of a deal that never should have happened in the first place.

AT&T buying Time Warner was like a rich, smart and successful businessman donning a chef’s hat and, with absolutely no training, entering the kitchen of a world-class restaurant determined to concoct an enticing new dish that would set the culinary world on fire. With no idea what to do, the “chef” resorts to asking a bunch of different people for help — and when the result is a near disaster he keeps messing with it, adding a pinch of salt here and a sprinkle of cumin there, only to make it even worse.

In desperation, he throws up his hands and asks someone else to take over — while the hungry, frustrated diners become even more apprehensive about what the ultimate concoction will be. How, they wonder, do you create a tantalizing dish out of Wonder Woman and the Property Brothers?

That’s going to be up to David Zaslav, the CEO of Discovery who’s been tapped to lead the new, as-yet-unnamed mashup. Working in his favor is his recognition that it all comes down to talent. Speaking with reporters on a Zoom call shortly after the landmark deal was announced, he stressed the importance of building relationships with the talent community and said he would “strive to create the best creative culture” he could.

That’s something AT&T never quite got, as evidenced by the backlash from Hollywood WarnerMedia heaped upon CEO Jason Kilar after his shocking announcement late last year that the studio would simultaneously release its entire 2021 theatrical slate on HBO Max, the media giant’s struggling streaming service.

The sad truth here is that HBO Max has been a disaster from day one, beginning with a mucked-up launch that for a while saw three different streamers operate at the same time, HBO Go, HBO Now and Max. “Go now” seemed to have been the operative phrase for consumers, who largely stuck with Netflix and, as a second choice, signed up for Disney+. Max’s actual subscriber count is something of a mystery; WarnerMedia claims the service as of the first quarter had 44.2 million subs, but that’s combined with regular HBO — and still a far cry from Netflix’s 207 million and Disney+’s 103 million.

Kilar reportedly seeking an exit should surprise no one. His rash move to effectively sucker-punch exhibitors won’t be forgotten, and his near-dismantling of the venerable Warner Bros. Pictures movie studio — which has had a tradition of putting talent first — can, in retrospect, only be seen as misguided. Warner Bros. is — was — a diamond. Kilar is treating it as though it was costume jewelry.

The problem with chucking tradition and legacy and focusing solely on the hot new toy, subscription streaming, is that to compete in a market where there are already two or three strong, established leaders is a quixotic ploy. What do you do when you throw everything you have into a new venture, only to discover it may never be enough?

I find it ironic that AT&T CEO John Stankey remains the telecom’s point person on the WarnerMedia-Discovery deal. As much as he’d like to pin AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner on his predecessor, Randall Stephenson, Stankey was the true architect behind the deal — just as he was behind an earlier botched venture, AT&T’s $67.1 billion purchase of DirecTV in 2015.

He’s got two strikes against him. I can hardly wait to see if there will be a third.

On the bright side, Zaslav is now in the unique position of being able to undo some of Kilar’s — and Stankey’s — missteps. He can start by following through on his promise to restore relationships with talent and hopefully give Warner Bros. back some of the luster it lost during those three miserable years under AT&T.

CEO Jason Kilar Reportedly Seeking WarnerMedia Exit

WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar reportedly was kept out of the loop until near the end of AT&T’s announced $43 billion spin-off of the former Time Warner to Discovery Inc.

With Discovery CEO David Zaslav in charge of the new unnamed company, Kilar, who joined WarnerMedia only last year, is looking to exit the company and his contract, according to The New York Times, which cited sources familiar with the situation.

Kilar’s name was noticeably missing from the May 17 morning press release announcing the mega merger, despite both Zaslav and AT&T CEO John Stankey heaping praise on the former co-founder/CEO of Hulu.

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“Jason is a fantastic talent,” Zaslav said on the conference call. Kilar also likes to be charge, especially when it involves streaming video and digital distribution. Kilar exited Hulu in 2013 after five years when he felt a loss of control on senior management decisions.

Earlier this month, Kilar cited as his biggest regret at Hulu his inability to convince Hulu co-owners, which included 20th Century Fox, Disney, Comcast/NBCUniversal and later Time Warner, the wisdom of global distribution.

“I think it’s totally fair to bash, candidly, Hulu’s lack of global footprint that could have been possible starting in 2008,” Kilar said on the MoffettNathanson Media & Communications Summit.

“This is ultimately a global business. I think it was very hard for the board members of Hulu to feel that this new, small thing called Hulu was going to disrupt their existing businesses across the globe. Now, that happened anyway because of Netflix and others, so that’s why I regret it.”

 

 

Report: AT&T, Discovery Looking to Merge Media Assets

Could WarnerMedia, HGTV, Animal Planet, TLC and Food Network soon be corporate siblings? Media reports suggest AT&T, which owns WarnerMedia, is in negotiations with Discovery to merge media assets in an attempt to better compete in the streaming video world against Netflix and Disney, among others.

Bloomberg is reporting that some kind of a deal could be announced in the coming week. Who would run the combined assets is unclear as Jason Kilar, who heads WarnerMedia, and Discovery CEO David Zaslev both have separate leadership skills. Kilar, who helped launch Hulu, would appear a frontrunner considering his experience in the digital ecosystem. Kilar brought on former Hulu CEO Andy Forssell to run HBO Max and WarnerMedia’s direct-to-consumer business.

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For AT&T CEO John Stankey, a merger of WarnerMedia, which includes Warner Bros., Turner and HBO, better validates the $85 billion spent acquiring the former Time Warner three years ago. That purchase sent AT&T’s corporate debt through the roof — a financial weight the telecom has been trying to reduce ever since. Stankey has been shedding non-core (and core) assets as fast as he can, including selling off Time Warner’s stake in Hulu, AT&T’s New York corporate space, anime unit Crunchyroll, and DirecTV, among other actions.

For Discovery, which launched a branded SVOD platform in January, getting penetration in a saturated market was always going to be a significant challenge — despite offering such assets as “Property Brothers” and Chip and Joanna Gaines’ Magnolia Empire, among others.

HBO and HBO Max ended the most-recent fiscal quarter with 44.2 million subscribers. Discovery+ topped 13 million subscribers at the end of April since launching in January. A strong start, but paltry when compared to Netflix’s 200+ million subs and Disney+ exceeding 103 million. Amazon just disclosed that its Prime Video service has 175 million subs.