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 image released by

Leslie Grace as Barbara Gordon in the only image released by “Batgirl” (Warner Bros)

It was the shot heard around the world – or at least in social media corridors. This week, Warner Bros fired a bullet in the head of Bad girl, canceling the release of the film when it was nearing completion. It was a decision with no real precedent. Nearly $ 100 million (£ 82 million) had already been paid into production; filming has been completed. Michael Keaton was supposed to reprise the role of Batman for the first time in 30 years. Warner Bros attributed the decision to shelve it to a “strategic shift” on the part of the leadership; the pivot follows a considerable change of management in the upper echelons of the company. But what everyone really heard, whether they know it or not, was not a “bang” but a “pop”. For all intents and purposes, the big streaming bubble may have just burst.

The noteworthy thing Bad girl, you see, it wasn’t that he was denied a theatrical release. This is sadly the case all too often with movies now, even the high-budget ones. If you are worried that something is going to flop, attach it directly to the stream. (During the height of the pandemic, when the flop of theatrical releases was a nailed certainty, straight-to-streaming or hybrid releases were particularly rampant: Wonder Woman 1984 to Dune to Matrix Resurrections all immediately streamed in the US). The problem is that Warner Bros allegedly decided there was more profit to be made from the tax deductions that would result from abandoning the project completely than there would have been by downloading it on its HBO Max streaming service. And they’re not wrong. .

Did streaming ever really make sense? I’m not referring to technology, of course: the sheer convenience of watching movies and TV series on the Internet means that most people will never agree to go back to a world of bulky physical media. But financially, streaming has always been all about vibes. It never made good business sense for Netflix to distribute movies that would have easily grossed $ 100 million in theaters directly via streaming, throwing away millions in cold and hard cash in exchange for the nebulous allure of “brand building” and “streaming exclusivity”. You can’t build an entire business around exponential subscriber growth; in the end, as we saw earlier this year, you will simply run out of new customers.

The fact that Netflix has begun to pave the way for a new level of ad-supported subscriber suggests that the company has doubts about the sustainability of its business model. Ad-supported TV has been the best and most profitable way to monetize home programming for the better part of a century. Streaming was never going to usurp this in the long run, any more than paid cable subscriptions did towards the turn of the 20th century. With cinema, the most profitable way to distribute a film is to distribute it in theaters; the dream scenario can see companies earning billions from a film that costs only a few hundred thousand to make and promote. Moving a feature to “direct to DVD” or “direct to video” was typically a sign that a studio had given up its financial perspective. “Straight-to-streaming” doesn’t share the stigma of its predecessors in physical media, but it’s hardly worth it to recoup an investment anymore.

But let’s get back to Bad girl. The DC Comics adaptation was far from the only casualty of the Warner Bros. executive reshuffle. Scoob! Holiday meeting place – a sequel to the sad Scooby Doo prequel Scoob! – was canceled at the same time, despite being mostly already animated. A number of TV series have also been dropped from HBO Max in recent weeks, including Raised by wolves, Close enough, Made for loveAnd Gordita Chronicles. Variety noted six original HBO Max exclusive movies, including the Anne Hathaway remake Witches and the Seth Rogen vehicle An American pickle – had been quietly removed for the past six weeks, something almost unheard of in the realm of streaming. The report suggested that the move could be designed to evade payment obligations for underperforming stocks, or executed for tax purposes, as would be the intention with Bad girl.

Perversely, those of us cheering for the survival of the “cinematic experience” might take heart from the fact that Warner Bros is clearly prioritizing the real financial potential of theatrical releases over the woolly rise of the streaming brand. It may only take so long for the rest of the industry to follow suit. But cancel projects like Bad girl that’s not the way to go. You can’t help but have feelings for the cast, crew, directors – some of whom have made heartbreaking statements upon learning of the cancellation – and even the fans.

Ultimately, film studios are against artists. They are at the mercy of the shareholders and board members, people who, ultimately, will inevitably follow the money. When there’s more profit from stopping a $ 90 million project completely than streaming it, it’s clear there’s something pretty rotten about the entire business model. Streaming, as we know it, will either have to adapt or die – and soon.

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