Home Entertainment Exec Peter Schauerte Named to Head WarnerMedia Local Theatrical Production in Germany, Austria and Switzerland

WarnerMedia Jan. 14 announced that Peter Schauerte, recently appointed to lead the Germany, Austria and Switzerland home entertainment and consumer products business, will now also oversee local theatrical production in the region. He reports to Iris Knobloch, country manager for WarnerMedia France & Benelux and Germany/Austria/Switzerland (GAS).

Schauerte’s expanded duties come after Willi Geike announced his decision to step down later this month after a 38-year career at Warner Bros.

Peter Schauerte

“Peter has an enormous understanding of the business side of theatrical local production and has forged strong relationships with the outstanding talent we partner with,” Knobloch said in a statement.

She added that developing compelling German theatrical movies for home entertainment audiences has never been more important and “we look forward to continuing to delight our audiences with many more relatable and captivating stories on the big screen.”

Schauerte takes on a local theatrical production pipeline, encompassing a range of drama, comedy and family entertainment, with the release of 10 or more titles a year.

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Schauerte most recently served for more than six years as CFO and SVP  of finance for Warner Bros. Germany (as well as Austria and Switzerland) where, as a member of the German senior management team, he played an integral role assessing strategic business decisions and initiatives for growth, new business opportunities and the changing complexion of the entertainment portfolio and distribution channels, and oversaw digital innovation and data strategy. He added the role of GM, Poland (Theatrical & Consumer Products) for Warner Bros.  in 2019, until WarnerMedia reorganized its EMEA operations towards the end of last year.

Throughout his nearly 20 years at Warner Bros., he has held a number of finance and operational roles and has been actively involved in the Warner Bros. Germany local production business since 2002.

Knobloch’s GAS leadership team include previously announced executives Steffen Schier (Theatrical Distribution),  Sylvia Rothblum (TV Distribution), Matthias Heinze (Affiliates & Ad Sales) and Tim van Dyk (Marketing), uniting the company’s entertainment networks with its Warner Bros. activities as part of a one WarnerMedia approach across the region.

CES: Warner Chief Ann Sarnoff Says Sending First-Run Movies to HBO Max Driven by Circumstances

Warner Bros.’ move to send first-run movies to the studio’s new streaming service HBO Max concurrently with their theatrical release was dictated by the pandemic, said Ann Sarnoff, CEO, WarnerMedia Studios and Network Group, during the virtual CES Jan. 13.

“We’re pivoting to be able to adjust to the environment we live in,” she said, adding, “I have some amazing movies that I would like the public to be able to see.”

As cinemas shuttered due to COVID-19, the studio made a controversial decision to release its theatrical slate through 2021, including Wonder Woman 1984 released on Christmas Day, in theaters (that were open) and at the same time on HBO Max for 31 days.

“We needed an alternative,” Sarnoff said. “Remember, this is a global theatrical release and HBO Max is only in the U.S.”

It’s very hard to launch a film theatrically in a pandemic, she said, noting that marketing in cities where a film is playing is planned out weeks in advance and, with theaters in danger of closely at any time, that wasn’t feasible.

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She noted that earlier in the pandemic the studio was able to release Christopher Nolan’s Tenet theatrically.

“We knew Tenet would play well overseas” where more theaters were open, she said.

Sarnoff joined the company in the summer of 2019, following the exit of Kevin Tsujihara, who left the position after allegations of sexual misconduct. When she discussed taking the studio job with AT&T CEO John Stankey, “he talked about breaking silos,” she said, and that has become one of her key aims.

“It is something I’m most excited about and most proud of,” Sarnoff said, noting “how siloed Warner Bros. was in and of itself.”

She has instituted weekly meetings on the company’s big franchises to discuss collaboration.

“You don’t want your fans to see your org chart,” she said, adding, for instance, “they can see the movies don’t have anything to do with the TV.”

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Sarnoff’s career prepared her well to become the first woman to head up the venerable Warner Bros. studio, she said. Before joining the studio, she was president of BBC Studios Americas, where she was responsible for driving growth and profit across the United States, Canada and Latin America. She oversaw L.A. Productions, linear and digital program sales and co-productions, home entertainment and licensing. She also led efforts to amplify BBC Studios’ global brands “Doctor Who,” “Top Gear” and the natural history brand “BBC Earth.” As board chair of the streaming service BritBox, Sarnoff guided the development and growth of the direct-to-consumer service, which offers U.S. and Canadian customers British television programming.

“My job at the BBC, I was the only executive that wasn’t sitting around a table in London, so I had to be a collaborator,” she said.

Stints at BBC and Nickelodeon helped her learn to work with “incredible franchises and IP,” she said.

Building out the franchise at Nickelodeon “has served me very well to this day” as she has the responsibility for driving such franchises as “Harry Potter” and the Wizarding World, “Game of Thrones” and the DC Universe, she said.

“We started thinking about what we could do for our DC fans this year,” she said of the superfan event the company launched virtually in September.

Called “DC FanDome: Explore the Multiverse,” the 24-hour event allowed fans to create and control their own viewing experience from more than 100 hours of on-demand content from television, films, comics, games and more — highlighting the work of more than 500 artists, writers and other talent from around the globe.

“We were able to connect virtually and celebrate the amazing movies we have coming out … as well as our TV shows,” she said, noting Venus Williams designed a whole line around Wonder Woman 1984.

Increasing diversity is another aim at the studio, she said.

“It’s a huge issue for me,” she said. “I’ve tried to blaze trails my whole career.”

She recalled having to conform to a male culture in an early job, hiding “female characteristics.”

“In terms of being a woman in this industry, it hasn’t been easy,” she said.

She says it’s a danger to have a “homogenous corporate culture where people are kind of finishing people’s sentences.”

A diverse workplace pays dividends, she said, adding that she learned from female colleagues to “get a seat at that table and make a difference.”

Wonder Woman 1984

STREAMING REVIEW:

Warner/HBO Max;
Action;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of action and violence.
Stars Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, Pedro Pascal.

The 2017 Wonder Woman movie is pretty commonly regarded as the best of the otherwise mediocre DC Comics shared movie universe. The sequel might have some fans wondering if the first one was a fluke.

Probably not. But while Wonder Woman 1984 unmistakably shares the DNA of the original, it certainly isn’t a retread.

Taking place in a stereotypical movie version of 1984, 65 years after the World War I setting of the first one, the film finds the ageless Diana (Gal Gadot) now working in the antiquities wing of the Smithsonian while going out as Wonder Woman on a lark to stop local crimes. One, a jewelry heist, uncovers a black market smuggling ring that brings Diana into contact with an ancient stone inscribed with the power to grant wishes by an ancient trickster god of lies (one who isn’t Loki, since he plays for the other team).

Diana’s wish is for the return of her lost love Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), and sure enough he pops up in a way that raises some questions the movie isn’t interested in answering.

However, the stone attracts the attention of Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), a con man selling shares in a phony oil company. He wants the power to wish himself into greatness, but as we are told in a flashback prologue set during Diana’s time as a young girl participating in the Amazonian sports of Themiscyra, “greatness is not what you think.”

Diana’s attempts to stop him put her at odds with a co-worker named Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), a wallflower whose wish to be more like Diana inadvertently imbued her with superpowers she’s now unwilling to give up on her path to becoming the supervillain Cheetah. However, tying such a seminal Wonder Woman villain’s origins to this story almost seems like a waste.

On the flip side, Diana discovers the price of her wish is the gradual decline of her own abilities, and as the wishing power spreads, plunging the world into chaos, she is forced to make the difficult decision most movie superheroes have to make at some point: love or duty.

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The film is visually dazzling and offers some moments that will make any superhero movie fan smile, and Wonder Woman fans in particular. For example, the film finds a neat way to work in the invisible jet that isn’t just a transparent plastic model with a doll in it.

But the film runs a bit long at two-and-a-half hours, and the over-reliance on wishes as the central plot device gets rather tedious after a while.

Even in a universe where magic is already established — Diana is the daughter of the Greek god Zeus, after all — the presentation of the wishes being granted just seems a step beyond the plausible since the movie only pays the slightest lip-service to how they are supposed to work. In a screenplay underlined by progressive misunderstandings of Reagan-era politics, the wishes serve whatever basic story points the writers require, and stand up to little scrutiny beyond that.

Which is all a means of saying the individual elements of the story as assembled don’t quite result in a completely satisfying whole. The two-villain team up is practically a superhero sequel tradition at this point, even when their pairing doesn’t seem to make sense. Tonally this type of plot wouldn’t seem too out of place in the 1970s “Wonder Woman” TV show.

The 1980s setting would seem to suggest the story is intended as a screed against the kind of selfishness and greed that are often attributed to the ’80s but are pretty universally present in any time period. But, really, the film’s message of honest work over shortcuts to achievement, and not expecting everything you want to just be handed to you, is an easy one to embrace.

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Since we’ve seen present-day Diana in Batman v Superman and Justice League, a sequel set before those films could have been a story about what brought her back to dabble in superheroism before retreating from humanity’s problems again before BvS. As it stands, WW84 doesn’t necessarily knock against the established DC movie timeline per se, but the two “Wonder Woman” movies definitely stand on their own apart from the greater franchise (though it will be interesting to see the character’s expanded role in HBO Max’s upcoming “Snyder Cut” of Justice League).

While some of its logical issues are hard to ignore, Wonder Woman 1984 does play better on multiple viewings. And really, whatever problems the movie has are almost an afterthought to the pure joy of a mid-credits cameo that should serve as the basis of the just-announced third film.

Wonder Woman 1984 is in theaters and streaming on HBO Max through Jan. 24, after which it will be available exclusively in theaters until its traditional home video run.

Warner Bros.’ Wonder Woman 1984′ Tops Domestic Christmas Box Office

Warner Bros.’ Wonder Woman 1984 topped the three-day Christmas weekend domestic box office with $16.7 million in ticket sales. The tally is the highest in the U.S. since the pandemic began in March shuttering theaters — and significant considering the movie was made available simultaneously on subscription streaming service HBO Max.

Universal Pictures’ western drama News of the World, starring Tom Hanks, finished No. 2 with more than $2.4 million in estimated ticket sales across 1,900 screens, according to industry data. World displaced The Croods: A New Age (Universal), which generated $1.73 million in domestic revenue across 1,726 screens; it made $3 million in Russia. The title has sold $29.1 million in domestic tickets ($98.2 million worldwide) since its debut Nov. 25.

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WW84, starring Gal Gadot, opened in just 40% of available domestic theaters. The sequel to 2017’s Wonder Woman generated $36 million in foreign markets along with $38.2 million in international revenue on its Dec. 16 debut.

Other new releases, included Focus Features’ Promising Young Woman, starring Carey Mulligan, with $270,000 in ticket sales in the No. 3 spot; and Roadside Attractions’ Pinocchio with $110,000 in revenue.

Today is the Day: ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ Premieres on HBO Max and in Theaters

Today is the day of the Big Experiment: Warner Bros. is simultaneously releasing the highly anticipated sequel Wonder Woman 1984, one of the year’s biggest tentpoles, in theaters and on HBO Max, where subscribers can stream the superhero movie for free.

It’s a bold step, an unprecedented move, and merely the beginning of a new movie release strategy that has turned Hollywood on its head.

The film’s theatrical launch had been pushed back several times due to the coronavirus pandemic. Originally slated for December and then November 2019, the film was finally locked in for June 2020. But then the pandemic came, and Wonder Woman 1984‘s theatrical launch was pushed back to August, then October, and, ultimately, Christmas Day.

When the virus began to surge again and it became clear there would be no mass reopening of movie theaters, Warner Bros. stuck to its guns and in November announced it was holding firm to a Dec. 25 theatrical release — but would also make the film available for viewing that same day on HBO Max, its new subscription streaming service.

HBO Max subscribers in the United States can access the film for a month with no additional cost to the $14.99 monthly fee (HBO Max offers a seven-day free trial for new members). (In international markets without HBO Max availability, the film opened Dec. 16.)

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Three weeks after announcing the same-day theatrical and streaming launch for Wonder Woman 1984, Warner Bros. stunned the industry on Dec. 3 with the disclosure that it would apply the same strategy to its entire 2021 theatrical slate of 17 big-budget movies, effectively shattering the traditional 90-day theatrical window.

Among the films slated for a simultaneous theatrical and HBO Max launch in 2021 are the Dune remake, The Matrix 4 and The Suicide Squad. Like Wonder Woman 1984, these films will all be available for 30 days on HBO Max.

The hybrid model, Warner executives said, is a strategic response to the impact of the ongoing global pandemic, particularly in the United States. Following the one-month HBO Max access period domestically, each film will leave the platform and continue theatrically in the U.S. and international territories, with all customary distribution windows applying to the title. All films will be available in 4K Ultra HD and HDR on HBO Max.

“We are living in unprecedented times, which call for creative solutions, including this new initiative for Warner Bros. Pictures Group,” Ann Sarnoff, chair and CEO of the WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group, said in a Dec. 3 statement. “No one wants films back on the screen more than we do. We know new content is the lifeblood of theatrical exhibition, but we have to balance this with the reality that most theaters in the U.S. will likely operate at reduced capacity throughout 2021.”

A sequel to 2017’s Wonder Woman, which grossed $821.8 million worldwide, Wonder Woman 1984 reunites director Patty Jenkins with star Gal Gadot and shifts the setting from World War I to the 1980s, where the DC Comics heroine confronts the challenges of the Cold War.

 

Sony Pictures’ ‘Monster Hunter’ Tops Underwhelming Weekend Box Office Ahead of ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ Christmas Debut

Sony Pictures’ Monster Hunter knocked off Universal Pictures’ The Croods: A New Age to lead another pandemic-sidelined weekend box office (Dec. 18-20). Hunter, starring Milla Jovovich, topped $2.2 million in estimated ticket sales across 2,300 screens, according to industry reports.

Previous topper The Croods: A New Age had an estimated $2 million in ticket sales across more than 1,900 screens nationwide. The animated sequel from DreamWorks Animation has tallied $27 million in domestic revenue after four weeks release; $79.4 million worldwide.

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Box office revenue among the movies totaled around $5.5 million as moviegoers continue to stay away from theaters in major markets due to ongoing spikes in coronavirus infections. To put some perspective on the revenue freefall, with one week to go in the fourth quarter, projected domestic box office revenue ($110 million) is just 46% greater than what Netflix generated ($59 million) renting DVDs in Q3. And legacy by-mail disc rentals are no longer a line item on Netflix’s financials.

Theatrical results could improve significantly over the coming Christmas weekend box office with the launch of DC superheroine Wonder Woman 1984 — the first major studio release since The Croods: A New Age. But with HBO Max streaming the movie concurrently all bets are off.

Cinemark Upbeat on Theatrical Comeback Following Vaccine Deployment

Cinemark Holdings, the third-largest movie theater operator in the U.S., has what No. 1 exhibitor AMC Entertainment doesn’t: $750 million in free cash for sustaining operations. That much was disclosed Dec. 16 at the MKM Partners Virtual Investor Conference by Cinemark CFO Sean Gamble, who said the chain with 4,500 screens across 345 theaters has enough cash to fund operations — without consumers — into 2022.

No. 1 exhibitor AMC Theatres is looking for $750 million from the sale of stock and debt to sustain operations past next January. AMC, like Regal and Cinemark, saw its business shut down overnight in March following government-mandated closures to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Screens in major markets of California and New York remain mostly shuttered.

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Gamble said Cinemark also expects to get $100 million in tax refunds from the CARES Act, the bipartisan pandemic stimulus bill approved earlier this year.

CEO Mark Zoradi said the chain’s first priority entering 2021 is rebuilding the balance sheet, and not acquiring assets from fiscally distressed competitors such as AMC. News reports suggested Cinemark was looking to acquire select AMC screens.

“We are going to be very careful in taking cash that we have on hand … and risking it with acquisitions where we’re not certain what that particular outlet is going to do in a post-pandemic environment,” Zoradi said. “Until a landlord actually owns a property, it obviously is not appropriate for us to be negotiating with that landlord prior to that moment.”

The CEO, like others in Hollywood, said he was “shocked” by Warner Bros.’ decision to release its entire 2021 theatrical slate concurrently into homes through HBO Max. Zoradi said he remained positive Disney would not replicate Warner’s move following discussions with Disney CEO Bob Chapek.

“It’s a bit of an anomaly [in movie distribution] we’re seeing right now,” Zoradi said.

AMC Theatres Says It Will Be Out of Cash After January

AMC Entertainment, parent to the world’s largest theatrical chain, AMC Theatres, said it has received $100 million in stopgap funding to remain afloat financially. The deal with Mudrick Capital Management, disclosed in a Dec. 11 regulatory filing, pays the investment firm 15% in annual interest in exchange for 13.7 million AMC shares.

With coronavirus infections and deaths spiking across the country, movie theaters remain either shuttered (Regal Cinemas) or operating under limited capacity such as AMC and Cinemark. AMC said theatrical attendance has declined 92% since the previous-year period.

The chain said that in the absence of additional liquidity, it anticipates that its cash resources will be depleted in January 2021. To remain viable through next year, AMC estimates its needs approximately $750 million of additional liquidity to fund cash requirements, which include $400 million in deferred rent obligations. The chain is burning through $125 million monthly to maintain operations.

In addition to the pandemic, AMC blamed its fiscal situation and future on delayed studio releases and Warner Bros.’ decision to release all movies concurrently in theaters and on the HBO Max streaming service.

“[The] delays of major movie releases, or the direct or simultaneous release of movie titles to the home video or streaming markets in lieu of theater exhibition, have led to theater closures, prevented the opening of theaters in major markets and have had, and are expected to continue to have in the future, a material adverse impact on theater attendance levels and our business,” AMC said in the filing. “These challenges have been exacerbated by the announcement by Warner Bros. that its entire studio film slate for 2021 will move to simultaneous release, which may result in other studios adopting a similar strategy.”

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As of Nov. 30, AMC was operating at 404 of its 594 U.S. theaters, with limited seating capacities and during limited opening hours. The company’s shuttered domestic screens include theaters in some of its major markets, such as New York City and in California. AMC is operating at 108 of its 359 leased and partnership international theaters, with limited seating capacities and during limited opening hours. Through Nov. 30, AMC said it has seen an 86% decline in international moviegoers compared to last year.

“Our current cash burn rates are not sustainable,” AMC said. We currently estimate that if our attendance levels do not significantly improve during … 2021, then we believe the liquidity shortfall would be greater than the estimated $750 million minimum shortfall, which if not addressed would prevent us from continuing as a going concern.”

Cinemark Studying Landmark Warner/HBO Max Distribution Announcement

Cinemark Cinemas, the nation’s third-largest exhibitor, is studying the impact of Warner Bros.’ landmark decision to release its entire 2021 slate of movies concurrently on SVOD platform HBO Max.

“In light of the current operating environment, we are making near-term booking decisions on a film-by-film basis,” a company rep said in a statement. “At this time, Warner Bros. has not provided any details for the hybrid distribution model of their 2021 films.”

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Cinemark, unlike No. 2 exhibitor Regal Cinemas, is operating screens domestically with limited capacity and strict safety protocols against the spread of the coronavirus. Regal has shuttered most operations indefinitely.

No. 1 exhibitor AMC Theatres and Cinemark earlier this year inked separate abbreviated theatrical window distribution agreements with Universal Pictures — enabling the studio to release any movie with less than $50 million box office to in-home digital distribution after 17 days and three weekends in theaters.

 

HBO Max Picks Up Exclusive SVOD Rights to ‘The Middle’

HBO Max has secured U.S. SVOD streaming rights to all nine seasons of the family comedy “The Middle,” with a total of 215 episodes available now.

Two-time Emmy winner Patricia Heaton stars in this single-camera comedy about raising a family and lowering your expectations. Middle-aged, middle class, and living in the middle of the country in Orson, Ind., Frankie Heck (Heaton) is a harried wife and mother of three who uses her wry wit and sense of humor to get her family through each day intact. Frankie works as a dental assistant, and her unflappable husband Mike is manager at the local quarry and her sardonic partner in the daily grind that is raising their family. Between juggling shifts and picking up fast food to be eaten in front of the TV, Frankie and Mike raise their kids — popular slacker Axl, optimistic, awkward Sue, and odd, eccentric Brick — with love, humor and solid midwestern pragmatism.

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In addition to Heaton, the comedy stars Neil Flynn as Mike, Charlie McDermott as Axl, Eden Sher as Sue and Atticus Shaffer as Brick.

Debuting in 2009, the series won the esteemed Humanitas Prize in 2016 and was also nominated for multiple Critics Choice Awards throughout its run.

Produced by Blackie and Blondie Productions in association with Warner Bros. Television, “The Middle” was created and executive produced by Eileen Heisler and DeAnn Heline.