The swiftness with which Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav began canceling shows and entire movies as part of his plan to boost the company’s revenue was cause for much alarm earlier this year. As series like Infinity Train and Summer Camp Island began disappearing from HBO Max, that alarm only intensified and led many to wonder just what Zaslav hoped to gain by essentially killing off pieces of its catalog just months ahead of its fusion with Discovery Plus. But in a recent WBD earnings call, Zaslav said that he’s confident those cuts were all the right decision because none of those series were performing in a way that benefited the company.
In response to a question about Warner Bros. Discovery’s free cash flow as the company looks forward to 2023, Zaslav was candid about his desire to focus on franchises in the near future and name-dropped Superman, Batman, and Harry Potter as properties he’s keen on tapping back into.
“We haven’t had a Superman movie in 13 years,” Zaslav said. “We haven’t done a Harry Potter movie in 15 years. The DC movies and the Harry Potter movie provided a lot of the profits of Warner Bro.s Motion Pictures over the last 25 years, so focus on the franchises.” (The last Superman movie was Man of Steel in 2013, and the last film set in the Harry Potter universe was Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, which came out... this year.)
As radioactive a figure as J.K. Rowling’s transphobia has made her, Zaslav mentioned wanting to “do something” with her on a Harry Potter project because it’s one of WBD’s “brands that are understood and loved everywhere in the world.”
Identifying the success of those brands and the failure of endeavors like going all in on streaming with HBO Max has been a priority for the company, Zaslav said, adding that “direct-to-streaming has done almost nothing for HBO Max, in terms of viewership, retention, or love of the service.”
While that last bit might raise some hackles, the larger point Zaslav was trying to make was partially about how HBO Max subscribers are apparently watching a small selection of shows like Friends, The Big Bang Theory, and Two and a Half Men far more than a lot of the platform’s original programming. There’s certainly something to be said about the importance of a streaming service’s ability to show users (new) things that they want to watch. But rather than putting an emphasis on improving discoverability, Zaslav pointedly said that what he wants is to make room for new projects, something that wouldn’t have been possible without getting rid of other existing IPs on the service.
“We didn’t take one show off a platform that was going to help us in any way,” Zaslav said. “It’s going to help us to get it off the platform so that we could now invest with the knowledge of what is working and replace those shows with content that has a chance to be more successful.”
It’s been beyond clear for some time now that Zaslav means business and has no qualms about breaking a few eggs in his pursuit of a streaming omelet. But with today’s news of Warner Bros. Discovery pulling the plug on Westworld, it’s getting even harder to get a sense of what — if anything — at the company is safe or if Zaslav’s plan is just to flood the space with sitcom reruns.