Former WarnerMedia boss Jason Kilar says you should be happy with the decline of movie theaters

Some finishes are surprising. That’s not it: Jason Kilar, who has run WarnerMedia for the past two years, is leaving the company – because he has a new owner who wants to run the entertainment group behind HBO, CNN and Warner Bros.

That resolution has been clear since last May, when AT&T announced that it had sold WarnerMedia – which it bought three years earlier – to cable TV developer Discovery Inc. More specifically, at a press conference announcing the deal, when Discovery CEO David O Zaslav had nothing to say about Kilar’s future at the joint venture.

There was tangible joy in some corners of Hollywood when Kilar’s future departure became apparent, as Kilar had become a stand-in for dissatisfaction with the way the tech giants were dealing with Hollywood. And specifically because Kilar had moved all of WarnerMedia’s 2021 movies, including big-budget shows like Dunein a first-flow model.

Kilar said he made the move because of the pandemic that closed theaters around the world. But many people I spoke to interpreted it as an example of a technician – Kilar started on Amazon, before Hulu was in its infancy – disrupting an industry just for the sake of upset.

Now WarnerMedia has come up with a hybrid model that has also made the most of Hollywood: Put most of your material in theaters and broadcast everything else on people’s phones and homes. I spoke with Kilar about this decision and what it means for the future of filmmaking, about the prospect of future media integration, how he handled the departure of former CNN boss Jeff Zucker, and what he will do. do then. Spoiler: Did not answer the last one.

Peter Kafka

You leave after two years. Was there something you could see coming after, that you could have predicted?

Jason Kilar

There are some things I do not think one could have predicted: that we would all be in a lockdown for five months, with no film or TV productions anywhere in the world. I do not think anyone would have predicted that all people would work from home for most of the two years. But when it came to business and the things we needed to do and focus on, that was largely part of the expectation.

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Peter Kafka

Without using the word “storytelling”, can you tell me something you are proud of, that is inside the company, that people might not be able to see outside?

Jason Kilar

Focus on the customer. The 99-year history of the company was largely a wholesaler. We make movies, TV series, documentaries and sometimes TV channels, but then we pass these things on to other companies and they interact with the customer, the audience, the fan. And the last two years, it has been a dramatic change in the company and in the strategy, even in the culture, to be very customer focused and ultimately to serve immediately.

Peter Kafka

In the past we talked about your movie release strategy – move all your movies to streaming in 2021 and this year to a mixed model, where some movies open first in cinemas and some are streamed immediately. Do you think that there will be room in cinemas for movies without superheroes, without events? Or do you think you will go to the movies for Marvel and Batman and Fast and the Furious and everything else you will see at home?

Jason Kilar

I think there will be space in the mainstream theaters, but not exclusively. I think the biggest shows that deserve IMAX will have exclusive theatrical performances, albeit smaller than the industry is used to. But I think there will be enough space in theaters for romantic comedies, for shades of drama, but these movies will not be distributed exclusively in theaters.

Peter Kafka

I wonder, if I run a theater chain, how I can convince myself to make room for a romantic comedy, when I know that the most consistent audience will be for these event films, and maybe even horror. It seems that I will finally give this real estate to the big franchises.

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Jason Kilar

I think you will give your first real estate to the big shows. There is no doubt about it. But keep in mind many of these theaters have 12, 20, 20 or more screens. So I don’t think every screen will be given to a superhero movie. Theaters will play for their own benefit and I believe it will be in their best interest to star in a spectacle… but I believe that the future of the industry will include romantic comedies and nuanced dramas on some screens.

Peter Kafka

If I’m a fan of dramas and romantic comedies, should I feel bad that it ‘s harder to see these things in the movies? Or should I feel good that it is easier to see these things at home?

Jason Kilar

I think it is a very positive development, for two reasons: 1) It is a model that allows more aggressive investments in romantic comedies and dramas and 2) giving the consumer the choice that I think is ultimately good. And for those who have invested in the theatrical experience – I think they will. And for those who prefer the comfort of the couch, they will have this too.

Peter Kafka

Quit WarnerMedia as it merges with Discovery. Do you think this combination will be big enough to compete? Or should they buy more things or sell themselves to someone else?

Jason Kilar

I will speak at a higher level about the industry in general. I think it is fair to say that there are more players in the streaming world right now than I think the industry will support on a scale. So I think there will be extra chess moves that will happen.

Peter Kafka

What was the highlight of the to-do list?

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Jason Kilar

I do not know if it exists. I was always trying to think long term, and the things we did in the last two years were not just about 2021 or 2022, but the next decade. We have 10-year plans.

Peter Kafka

Did you give any advice to David Zaslav and his team on what to do with the team and plans you have created?

Jason Kilar

At the end of the day, I hand over the keys to David so he can go and drive as he sees fit. This is how it should work in this situation. The way the transaction was done was that Discovery would be in control, and that is why David makes these decisions.

Peter Kafka

You have regretted the way you handled it [former CNN head] Jeff Zucker’s departure on CNN – his dismissal and its aftermath?

Jason Kilar

I accepted Jeff’s resignation [Note: Both the New York Times and Wall Street Journal have reported that Kilar told Zucker he would have to leave his job after learning Zucker had failed to disclose a relationship with Allison Gollust, CNN’s chief marketing officer]. But to answer your question: No, I do not regret it. As I said publicly, decisions have been made about CNN and I feel good about them.

You’s the CNN + judge, but when you look at what has happened in just the last two weeks, you have what I think is the strongest news franchise in the world, firmly embracing a paid, powerful, scalable business model. And I think 10 years from now, that’s going to be a difference for CNN. So I do not regret. [Disclosure: Recode and Vox Media created Land of the Giants, a documentary series now streaming on CNN+; my editor Samantha Oltman and I were executive producers for the project.]

Peter Kafka

What follows for you?

Jason Kilar

Fair question. This will be for the next discussion that you and I will have.

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