Warner Bros Discovery continues to stumble in its first year after the merge.
Movie-wise, The Flash didn’t perform up to expectations. Show-wise, HBOMax’s reboot as just Max continues to be laughable. News-wise, the CEO, David Zaslav, fired CNN’s CEO Chris Licht after several notable missteps. Plus, they live in a world where writers have the gall to want to eat and support their families.
News broke earlier this week that the embattled company’s historical properties aren’t even safe from the chaos. Warner Bros. Discovery is looking to sell approximately half of its storied assets. Furthermore, it might be about to wipe not just unreleased movies and underperforming shows, but a staple of cinematic history.
Warner Bros Discovery: Storied AssetsStoried assets are essentially the copyright to stories and aspects of said stories that a company owns. For example, music. Warner Bros. Discovery has a long history, both on the Warner Bros. side and the Discovery side.
Precisely which properties Warner Bros. Discovery aims to sell isn’t clear. Variety reports that it mostly contains music rights. This would include not just music and songs from classic movies like Casablanca, but also music to live musicals like Rent. It also may include parts of various Batman movies.
Who would buy these rights? Also unclear. Rumors, though, suggest Sony. No doubt Sony would jump to have access to more aspects of comic book universes.
However, the main question this raises is why? Even the Variety article questions the logic of this choice. After all, the properties being sold are likely older. Since they’re not exactly in vogue, they’re less likely to bring in a massive amount of cash for whomever buys it.
That said, Sony’s rights to Spider-Man and essentially nothing else makes them a prime candidate.
Also, to be fair, logic hasn’t seemed to play a huge role in a lot of Zaslav’s decisions, such as deleting Batgirl from existence. Even if it benefits Sony and helps get Warner Bros. Discovery out of debt, it isn’t a great look for WBD. If you don’t have enough confidence in your products to bring you enough profit to clear your debts, how can your audience have confidence in them?
Outside FactorsOf course, outside factors are at play. Namely, the ongoing writer’s strike has no signs of ending anytime soon. While the summer break masks its impact for audiences, summer’s only a few months long. Reality lurks ahead in the autumn, when shows that typically start in the fall do not, in fact, start.
All of this means monetary loss for major production companies. Warner Bros. Discovery faces financial losses just like Disney, Netflix, and more. Hence, Warner Bros. Discovery can’t count on a windfall in the autumn to help clear their debts the way they normally would.
Even when a writer’s strike ends, it’s not a guarantee of profits. Ask any fan of Heroes what happened to the show after the 2008 writer’s strike. Writer’s strikes can destroy franchises even if they end up striking a good deal.
As for Zaslav as a human being, writers’ wrath came for him too. When he spoke at Boston University’s 2023 Commencement, students interrupted with chants of “pay your writers!” and someone even paid for a plane to fly overhead bearing a similar message.
Whether this is all lead up into Comcast purchasing the company or not, we’ll have to wait and see.
Warner Bros Discovery: Turner Classic MoviesWarner Bros. Discovery is facing more issues as well. In particular, Zaslav recently fired the five executives of Turner Classic Movies. Actually, Zaslav intends to let their positions go entirely. No replacements. The executive positions just don’t exist anymore.
Turner Classic Movies is a cable channel that gives people wide access not just to stories, but to history itself. It’s critically important to preserving cinematic legacy and making sure lost films don’t become the norm.
All of this begs the question of why Zaslav doesn’t want preserve Turner Classics. Unfortunately, the answer is pretty clear: there’s no money to be made from it. Unlike other properties, there also isn’t money to be lost in it, either. Still, apparently not coming with a billion dollar guarantee means that it doesn’t deserve the same attention its legacy has arguably earned.
Admittedly, Zaslav has reportedly stated that he respects TCM’s legacy.
This is my favorite channel. I think it’s critically important. It’s like a trust. It tells you where America was and where America’s going. It defines how people see this country. This is a beautiful living history.
However, considering Zaslav’s history of respecting directors by deleting their work without warning them, it’s incredibly hard to give him the benefit of the doubt here. No word if TCM’s properties would be deleted from existence, but it certainly isn’t out of the question.
Scorcese, Spielberg, and Anderson vs. Warner Bros Discovery
It isn’t just poor fans who are alarmed by Zaslav’s actions. Celebrated filmmakers like Stephen Spielberg, Martin Scorcese, and Paul Thomas Anderson apparently felt so much alarm that they personally joined together to speak to Zaslav. Imagine being a fly on the wall during that conversation.
Reportedly, Zaslav reassured all three that he agrees that TCM needs preservation. Whether he means that or whether preservation means accessible in any way, though, remains to be seen.
Plus, this new vow of dedication indicates maybe more financial sense than genuine respect. No one wants to be on Scorcese or Spielberg’s bad side, after all.
Content vs. ArtAs a popular Twitter account run by writer Boze Herrington pointed out,
In the streaming era, those films are becoming impossible to find and a whole generation is growing up without them. Blockbuster is gone. Netflix has eviscerated its film library in favor of original shows that are cancelled after one season. And now the head of HBO / Warner Brothers—one of the few places that made old films accessible—is pivoting away from prestige and classic programming in favor of reality shows because he fundamentally doesn’t see the different between content and art.
This criticism is more than valid. While Zaslav would likely deny that he doesn’t respect art, and would point to his role as a businessman who has to pay his employees, there’s a fundamental disconnect here in that his business is primarily concerned with art and education.
Yes, news cycles and available historical content are educational. Not everyone in the world has access to schools, or to good schools, not even in the United States. Streaming opens doors for people to have access to a ton of content via channels like TCM. Removing it in the interest of profit does a lot of harm.
Plus, in the art focus, the emphasis on profit first has led to a stunning lack of original content. Almost every movie is a remake or based on an already existing property. Directors have their work destroyed. Original shows get immediately cancelled if they don’t meet expectations, even when said expectations are unrealistic and when many classic shows would have been cancelled after one season if companies had operated purely on this basis in the past. Writers and actors are begging on social media for fans to help them get more seasons to tell the stories they want to tell.
Even if Zaslav really did relent on Turner Classics, this is an issue that won’t be easily solved.