Warner Bros. ‘ Simultaneous Movie Releases Require New Measures of Success, Says CEO

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to rock the entertainment industry’s playbook, WarnerMedia’s Ann Sarnoff is on the hunt for a new set of industry measurement tools – the traditional box numbers -office are damned.

Sarnoff, president and CEO of WarnerMedia’s studios and networks division, said that the hub of streaming and Warner Bros. to move to release its 2021 slate in streaming as well as in theaters, requires “a totally different set of criteria” to understand what successful versions look like.

“Unless you’re running ads, eyeballs in this day and date world are less relevant to the service’s overall engagement,” Sarnoff said during a CES 2021 virtual presentation on Wednesday. “The amount it costs you to acquire a subscriber, the churn rate each month, the number of people leaving the service, what you can do to reduce the churn rate, lower your cost of acquisition, that is, is a completely different set of measures that the industry does not tailor. “

These new measures are badly needed in a year when Warner Bros. ’17 films in 2021 will appear both in theaters worldwide and on HBO Max to subscribers at no additional cost. The industry’s breakthrough move, which AT&T CEO John Stankey defended, was a necessity, says Sarnoff.

“We pivot so that we can adapt to the environment we live in,” Sarnoff explained. “Do I want the pandemic to be over? Yes of course. But I have some amazing movies that I wish fans could see, and because a lot of the market, especially in the US and now in Europe, is now closed – over 60% of theaters are now closed – you can’t do it just by launching into theaters. We needed an alternative platform.

The move also comes on the heels of the traditional theatrical release of Christopher Nolan Tenet’s thriller at the end of the summer, even as many theaters remained closed. While Stankey previously indicated the company was disappointed with the title’s lukewarm $ 363 million box office run (“I can’t say we ditched the Tenet experiment thinking it was a hit. circuit “, said in October), Sarnoff said the studio was “happy with the results” given the state of theaters and marketing challenges in the midst of a pandemic.

“It’s really hard to spend the marketing you need to spend and launch when some cities open and some cities close, and you book your marketing eight weeks in advance, so you shoot a moving target of how much of the market is going. be open or not, ”Sarnoff said. “We just decided to go into the long game and just open the movie.”

Warner Bros. ‘ The 2021 titles will hit theaters around the world, generating box office revenue in international markets where HBO Max, a US-only service for now, is not yet operational. And while the release plan will almost certainly affect box office numbers, so will the pandemic – and Sarnoff said box office numbers are no longer the best metric movie studios can rely on. .

“What the opening weekend is and was was an indicator of a movie’s success, as there were formulas you could apply to then project the ultimates of what your movie was likely to do,” Sarnoff said. “Sometimes these formulas worked and sometimes they didn’t. … But when more of the world gets into streaming and looks for metrics of success, there will be things we learn sooner. “

It is still up to the industry to adjust these parameters, but the pressure to do so is already on.

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