Does Batgirl mark the beginning of the end of the great streaming experiment?

Does Batgirl mark the beginning of the end of the great streaming experiment?

Leslie Grace as Barbara Gordon in the only published image from Batgirl (Warner Bros.)

Leslie Grace as Barbara Gordon in the only published image from Batgirl (Warner Bros.)

It was the shot that was heard around the world — or at least in social media corridors. This week, Warner Bros. put a bullet through the head bat girl, canceled the film’s release as it neared completion. It was a decision without real precedent. Almost $100 million (£82 million) had already gone into production; filming was complete. Michael Keaton was set to reprise his role as Batman for the first time in 30 years. Warner Bros attributed the decision to shelve it to a “strategic shift” in leadership; The turning point follows a significant management change in the company’s upper echelons. But what everyone really heard, whether they know it or not, wasn’t a “bang” but a “pop”. Actually, the big streaming bubble could have just burst.

The remarkable thing about it bat girlYou see, it wasn’t that he was denied a theatrical release. Unfortunately, that’s all too often the case with movies, even high-budget movies. If you’re worried about something flopping, tape it straight to the streaming. (During the height of the pandemic, when theatrical releases were a certainty, direct or hybrid releases were particularly prevalent – films by Wonder Woman 1984 to dune to The Matrix Resurrections all started streaming immediately in the US). The problem is that Warner Bros presumably decided that there would be more profit to be made from the tax write-offs that would result from abandoning the project entirely than dumping it on its streaming service, HBO Max. And they are not wrong.

Has streaming ever really made sense? I’m not talking about the technology, of course – the sheer convenience of watching movies and TV series over the internet means most people will never accept going back to a world of cumbersome physical media. But from a financial standpoint, streaming has always impacted sentiment alone. It never made commercial sense for Netflix to release films that would easily gross $100 million in theaters straight from streaming — throwing away millions in hard cash in exchange for the nebulous appeal of “branding” and “streaming exclusivity.” . You can’t build an entire business on exponential subscriber growth; As we saw earlier this year, you will eventually run out of new customers.

The fact that Netflix has started paving the way for a new ad-supported tier of subscribers suggests the company has doubts about the sustainability of its business model. Ad-supported television has been the best and most profitable way to monetize home programming for almost a century. Streaming would never usurp this in the long run, any more than paid cable subscriptions did in the late 20th century. In cinema, the most profitable way to distribute a film was to give it a theatrical release; The dream scenario envisions companies making billions from a film that only cost a few hundred thousand to make and promote. Pushing a feature film straight to DVD or straight to video was usually a sign that a studio had given up its financial prospects. “Straight-to-streaming” doesn’t share the stigma of its physical media predecessors, but it’s hardly more useful for recouping an investment.

But back to bat girl. The DC Comics adaptation was far from the only casualty of Warner Bros.’s upper management reshuffle. Schoob! holiday destination – a sequel to the bleak Scooby Doo prequel Schoob! – was canceled at the same time, although most of it was already animated. A number of TV series have also been weeded from HBO Max in recent weeks – including Raised by wolves, Near enough, made for loveand Chronicles of Gordita. diversity noted that six HBO Max-exclusive original films — including Anne Hathaway’s remake of The witches and Seth Rogen’s vehicle An American cucumber — has been quietly removed for the past six weeks, something almost unheard of in the streaming space. The report hinted that the move could be to avoid payment obligations for underperforming titles or could be done for tax reasons, as it’s reportedly intended bat girl.

Perversely, those of us rooting for the survival of the “theatrical experience” might take some encouragement from the fact that Warner Bros is clearly emphasizing the very real financial potential of theatrical releases over the woolly brand extension of streaming. It can only be so long before the rest of the industry follows suit. But canceling projects like bat girl is not the right way. You can’t help but feel sympathy for the cast, crew, directors — some of whom have made heartbreaking statements after learning of the cancellation — and even the fans.

Ultimately, film studios are in opposition to artists. They’re at the mercy of shareholders and board members—people who, at the end of the day, are inevitably chasing money. If there’s more profit to be had in abandoning a $90 million project entirely than in streaming it, it’s clear there’s something pretty fishy about the entire business model. Streaming as we know it must adapt or die — and soon.

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