“Barbie” is on track for a billion-dollar take at the box office, Warner’s first since before the pandemic lockdown, despite some ferociously bad reviews. But it’s going to take more than one blockbuster to stem Warner’s losses in streaming, plus the production shutdowns due to striking actors and writers.
There’s just one problem: Warner doesn’t seem to have any more billion-dollar pictures in the pipeline.
On Thursday, Warner CEO David Zaslav announced that production shutdowns have saved the studio’s streaming services money in the “low $100 million range,” according to Vanity Fair. While nine figures is nothing to sneeze at, not making movies and TV shows isn’t a sustainable business model for a production studio.
Warner’s “advertising revenue fell 13% year over year to $2.5 billion,” according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. “Revenue from studio content plunged 25% to $2.4 billion during the quarter, which included the disappointing release of ‘The Flash’ from Warner’s DC superhero franchise.”
The company’s last big summer tentpole release is “Blue Beetle,” due out August 18. It’s yet another superhero origin story flick. I’ve seen the trailer, and I can sum it up this way: Blue Beetle is Spider-Man meets Venom meets Greatest American Hero. Seriously, there’s a suit from outer space (Greatest American Hero) that gives powers to a likable, smart teenage boy (Spider-Man) but doesn’t always do what he wants it to do (Venom).
I took my wife to see the new “Mission: Impossible” a few weeks ago, and they played the “Blue Beetle” trailer. When the trailer ended, I leaned over to my wife and whispered, “There’s nothing there we haven’t seen in a dozen other movies.” And my wife leaned back over to me and whispered, “That’s the same thing you said about it when we were here for John Wick.”
That’s right: even the trailer was so formulaic that I had to see it twice before it registered.
“Blue Beetle” was relatively cheap to produce — “just” $120 million — but it probably won’t have legs anything like “Barbie.”
Coming out Friday is the Jason Statham sequel, “Meg 2: The Trench.” The early buzz — 16% “fresh” based on 32 reviews at Rotten Tomatoes — isn’t good. I really enjoyed the original for embracing big, campy action thrills, and the trailer for “Meg 2” got a few laughs out of me. But the vibe was definitely “Wait for it to hit streaming.”
Streaming might be the most serious of Warner’s troubles.
Warner’s streaming services, Max and Discovery+, are down to 95.8 million subscribers in the second quarter, down from a Q1 peak of 97.6. That’s despite “significant investments” in marketing and programing to draw in new subscribers.
My guess is they’ll have to spend a LOT more on marketing to fix the terrible marketing that went into creating the Max and Discovery+ brands.
Max is what used to be HBO. If you ask a random person, one who might not have ever been a subscriber, what HBO is, they’d probably say something like, “Game of Thrones, Sopranos, right? High-quality stuff.” Ask them what Max is, and people might think you’re referring to the old HBO’s old Cinemax sister pay channel — you know, the one with all the dirty “Skinemax” movies on late at night. Why Warner chose to throw out the gold standard HBO brand in favor of Max is a very expensive mystery.
Discovery+ isn’t much more than food, travel, and animal shows that likely have close-enough equivalents on the much more popular Netflix. Subscription fatigue is a real thing, and Discovery+ doesn’t provide much to overcome it.
Disney, as I’ve written here time and again, is hurting because the company’s Woke leadership effectively renounced a 90-year-old brand of quality, wholesome family entertainment. Warner is flailing because the company can’t seem to remember what any of its brands are supposed to be.