Jason Kilar, the CEO of WarnerMedia, recently became infamous for deciding to release all of his company’s 2021 movies on streaming at the same time as in theaters. He talks about that decision in this New York Times podcast with Kara Swisher. It seems unlikely to hurt the company in the long run: Subscription streaming services are the future, and theaters aren’t going to be fun for many months yet.
But I was struck by Kilar’s arguments for his company’s streaming potential, which centers on HBO Max: “We have an incredible library of worlds,” he said. He was addressing the way that competitors like Disney+ and Netflix have created new intellectual property, the nebulous term that refers to the entire range of possibilities around a fictional character or group of characters and their environment — not just Wonder Woman but the entire DC Comics “expanded universe,” as they say.
Kilar doesn’t care about one specific show or another; the most profitable thing to create now are worlds, franchises, cultural DNA that can be spliced and recombined into an infinitely extending range of products. TV but also movies, video games, VR experiences, Fortnite skins.
Disney’s The Mandalorian (aka the Baby Yoda show) has shown the potential for radically expanding an old IP world (Star Wars) in a new direction and format. Disney is now stretching that world in as many different directions as possible, with a dozen new series and movies. To me it looks like the influence of unchecked capitalism on culture: They own a commodity so they have to exploit it as much as possible, grow its value.
But I don’t think we viewers actually want every story or character to have to be a “world,” to expand endlessly until it loses all specific meaning, like a corporate conglomerate that has absorbed too many competitors. Aren’t stories defined by the fact that they end? — By Kyle Chayka