Superheroes from Time Warner’s DC Comics universe will have “more lightness in them” than people saw from this year’s financially successful — but critically panned — Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad, CEO Jeff Bewkes told an investor gathering today.
“We’re thinking about that,” he told the Goldman Sachs Communacopia conference. Even though “this is the part where we say ‘pay no attention to the critics’,” Bewkes acknowledged that “we do think there’s a little room for improvement.”
Warner Bros has added some executives, including DC’s Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns, “to oversee not just the movie applications we do” but also the eight DC-related TV shows and consumer products lines.
“We’re going to try to make sure we do this in a way that’s faithful to the opportunity and the tone of this,” Bewkes says.
That said, “these movies were very successful in the strategic aims and financial aims we had for them.” They helped to reinvigorate moviegoers’ interest in the characters. “So the strategy worked. The execution did deliver what we wanted….What you shouldn’t take away is that you should be worried about this. We’re actually more optimistic about it than we were….We’re right on course, or better.”
On other fronts, the CEO defended his recent purchase of a 10% stake in Hulu, which is planning a cable-like streaming service for next year.
“It fits into a bunch of things that we’ve done,” including the launch more than a year ago of HBO Now. What’s more, “we’re not expecting it to take a lot of cash in the future from us. They do have good plans to get to good profits in a reasonable horizon.”
Couldn’t it encourage cord-cutting at Time Warner’s cash cow: its cable and satellite distributed channels?
Probably not, Bewkes says. With the competitive threat “the existing distribution world is getting its act together,” improving user interfaces and developing “different packages with better consumer support…If Comcast and others didn’t do it you know you’d have it from some of the other companies, Roku or Apple, which has been talking about doing that.”
The CEO also says he doesn’t fear that his networks will lose the game of musical chairs as distributors create smaller, and lower-priced, bundles than cable and satellite currently offer. “We’re trying to add distribution choices for consumers, not do something other than that….They want, in most cases, all of our networks.”
The way he sees it, the distributors who have suffered from cord cutting could go “back to subscriber health again” by selling to people who find the current offerings to be too expensive. And as everyone moves to digital delivery it improves networks’ ability to sell high-priced targeted ads creating an “opportunity to reduce loads over time.”
Bewkes isn’t concerned about Disney’s recent investment in, and potential ownership of, Major League Baseball’s BAMTech technology platform.
Although BAM helped launch HBO Now, Time Warner handles HBO Go “totally in-house.” The company bought technology company iStreamPlanet that handled the Olympics and Super Bowl for other customers.
“We will have the capability to put all of our services — HBO, Turner and Warner — on that if we decide when and if that’s a good thing to do…We just want to have the capability to handle our own networks. That doesn’t mean we wouldn’t make a decision that certain aspects are better outsourced.”
Although he’s “still happy” with BAM, “we want to have options.”
Bewkes had little new to say about the progress of HBO Now, including an updated subscription number.
“Subscribers who use HBO Now are about a decade younger than the ones on linear,” he says. “Most of the Now subs are broadband only…Sub growth is good.”
And cable operators aren’t retaliating for Time Warner’s decision to offer the service directly to consumers.
“HBO subs, for most distributors, are often overindexed into those households that have a very valuable subs that they want” with multiple services. “It would make no sense for any of them to drop.”
At the end of the day, “HBO sub revenue will accelerate,” he says. “It takes a little time, but it’s definitely on track.”