Warner Bros. Discovery Int’l President on His Commitment to Local Content and Saying “100 Percent Yes” to Theatrical Business

Warner Bros. Discovery Int’l President on His Commitment to Local Content and Saying “100 Percent Yes” to Theatrical Business

“The theatrical business is here to stay,” Warner Bros. Discovery’s president, international Gerhard Zeiler told a Royal Television Society (RTS) gathering in London on Tuesday. “Not everyone is still feeling safe to go back to the cinema” or may need a big film to go out, but movies continue to attract audiences, he argued, calling the film industry a “must have.”

Zeiler also said during his appearance at the RTS London Convention 2022 in a conversation with ITN journalist Nina Hossain as part of a discussion of the vision for the new media and entertainment giant and its plans to harness its brands to engage audiences that the industry giant was looking to launch a streaming service in the U.K. outside of Discovery+, which was taken as a signal that the company could end its current exclusive output deal with Comcast-owned Sky. The convention’s theme is “The Fight for Attention.” “That’s not possible in a creative industry,” he said though when asked if hit films can be predicted with certainty.

“The vision is actually quite easy. We are a content company,” Zeiler said when asked about the vision of the merged Warner Bros. Discovery. “We tell stories” in many, many ways, including in feature films, TV series, animation, sports, news, documentaries and games. He touted the “breadth” of how the firm tells stories, while highlighting “the development and quality” of content as key mandates.

Discussing the company’s distribution strategy, he said it is similarly broad-based, highlighting the conglomerate was saying “100 percent yes to the theatrical business” and exclusive cinema windows. “We don’t believe that it makes sense to put all the content we have into one window,” he highlighted, arguing that was not what consumers wants.

Touting the high current level of quality of content across the company and industry, he said it was “key” to “bring the best creators in.” He recounted how HBO and HBO Max chief content officer Casey Bloys bet on Euphoria.

Asked about the importance of local content for the company, he said “to really be a top 3 player, you need to complement” the big global hits, such as House of the Dragon, Succession and Elvis, with “relevant local stories” and content in a lot of markets. He cited Spanish originals as examples, including horror series 30 Coins. The same goes for local films, such as Warner’s Japanese and German movies, Zeiler said.

He also touted “the really great” partnership and output deal that Warner Bros. Discovery has with Comcast-owned European pay TV giant Sky that is good “for both sides.” He also recounted how when WarnerMedia was owned by AT&T, he once went to AT&T CEO John Stankey to show him how an annual letter from Sky to customers listed only WarnerMedia shows in promoting its success. “Look, they are having a good time with us,” he recalled telling Stankey.

Asked about his current boss, WBD CEO David Zaslav, Zeiler said: “Whoever knows David Zaslav, knows that he is very ambitious.” He added that the company wants to be a top 3 industry player, but would rather do better than being third.

With the merged conglomerate targeting profitable streaming subscriber growth and $3 billion in cost savings, the company said in July that it was adjusting its programming strategy for streaming service HBO Max in parts of Europe. It will no longer produce originals for HBO Max in the Nordics, the Netherlands, Central Europe and Turkey, the company said back then. It detailed that it would be “ceasing our original programming efforts for HBO Max in the Nordics and Central Europe” and had already ended “our nascent development activities in the newer territories of Netherlands and Turkey, which had commenced over the past year.” It added that the streamer would remove “a limited amount of original programming” to allow it to free up licensing deals.

The firm’s original programming efforts in Spain and France are not affected by the strategy change. 

Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav and his team in August also unveiled key strategies and focus areas. “We have no intention of being beholden to anyone in particular or to a specific business model,” Zaslav said back then. “Simply put: we are open for business.” This strategy includes a measured goal for streaming subscriber growth, returning to an emphasis on theatrical releases and emphasizing an openness to licensing content to third parties. Within it, streaming is just one of many segments of a multifaceted media company. 

Zeiler is Austrian, making him the second German-speaking top executive at Warner Bros. Discovery next to CFO Gunnar Wiedenfels, who is German. 

“Our combined international business has significant scale, and a diversified portfolio — both geographically and across lines of business,” said Zeiler in April after the mega-merger of Discovery and AT&T’s WarnerMedia closed.

 “As a result, when deciding the new leadership structure, we wanted to ensure that we had dedicated regional leads to reflect the scale and complexity of the business which would, in turn, increase focus on key markets.”

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