‘Batgirl’ Shelving Was “Blown Out Of Proportion” By Press, Warner Bros Discovery CFO Says: “Media Likes To Talk About Media”
The surprising decision last month to shelve completed DC movie Batgirl was “blown out of proportion” by the press, according to Warner Bros Discovery CFO Gunnar Wiedenfels.
Speaking at the Bank of America Media, Communications and Entertainment Conference, the exec acknowledged the intense scrutiny on the new regime since the completion in April of the $43 billion merger. Asked whether the company’s reputation in the talent community and agency business had taken a hit based on Batgirl and a number of other cancellations of HBO Max shows, he said it had not. “Media likes to talk about media, I guess,” he observed.
Moderator Jessica Reif Erlich, a BofA analyst who is a noted bull on WBD shares, said the Batgirl move seemed to her like a “prudent business decision.” She asked if it represented a reset of the strategy for DC and Wiedenfels replied, “No. … There’s a new team coming in, forming a view, providing a financial framework to assess these things.” He added, “The focus is, on a go-forward basis here, we’re spending more than ever in the history of the two legacy companies on content. We will continue to make significant investments. We’ll make them differently and with a different financial rigor and a different focus on full utilization across all platforms, etc., but this is the lifeblood of the company and we’ll continue to be investing in it.”
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Critics of the Batgirl move, including but not limited to the creative team behind it, noted the awkward optics of ditching a film starring a Latina actress (Leslie Grace) in the lead role. That element didn’t surface in the conference discussion, and as far as the future steward of DC, Wiedenfels only noted in passing that CEO David Zaslav “is looking” for a new chief. (After talks were held with Dan Lin about the post, the parties decided not to move forward.)
More broadly, the combined company is “continuing to make progress” toward its goal of $3 billion cost savings from the merger, Wiedenfels said. Waves of layoffs have rolled out in recent months, and the company said last month that it had already passed the $1 billion mark in synergies.
Bringing together the assets has been a more complex undertaking than it initially appeared, Wiedenfels said. Rather than just the previous WarnerMedia operations joining Discovery, he argued, it’s more like five entities blending: Warner Bros, HBO, Turner, CNN and Discovery.
Wiedenfels touched on a range of hot topics, including the 2023 plan to merge HBO Max with Discovery+, pay-TV subscriber trends, sports rights strategy and overall content spending.
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