On a Q1 earnings call today, Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) CEO David Zaslav confirmed that former Dreamworks executive Bill Damschke is officially the new head of Warner Animation Group.
Damaschke’s appointment is hardly a surprise; it was widely reported back in February that he was in final talks to take on the role. It is strange though that the confirmation of that appointment only came in today’s call, and that it came with no fanfare at all.
While addressing the company’s investors, Zaslav announced that WBD is currently developing a new feature animation slate and that Damaschke is leading those efforts. Said Zaslav:
One of the real strengths of our company is the diversity of our storytelling. And in this centennial year, we are especially excited to be reinvigorating our feature animation business, which has a long history and a wealth of great IP. Bill Damaschke, the former Head of Dreamworks Animation, has taken the helm of our film animation group and is hard at work together with Mike [De Luca] and Pam [Abdy] developing a new slate.
WBD’s feature animation division needs reinvigorating. The company’s previous leadership embraced a streaming-first model to help bolster its fledgling HBO Max platform, and WB animated films practically disappeared from cinemas.
Last year, the company released just one theatrical animated film, DC League of Super-Pets. The year before that, it was just Space Jam: A New Legacy and Tom and Jerry, both of which underperformed. Its upcoming slate doesn’t inspire much confidence either, with only Coyote vs. Acme scheduled for 2023.
Zaslav didn’t sugarcoat that fact, explaining:
We have got some businesses that aren’t doing well. Warner Bros. turns 100, and they have had two of the worst years of – if you look back at Warner Bros., it was really just very difficult. Very difficult on every level in terms of what was turned out. And so we think we have turned the corner on that.
It was in that context that he elaborated on the company’s plans for animation. During the Q&A portion of the call, the CEO lamented WBD’s inability to better utilize its animation resources and thinks it should be a much bigger player than it is right now.
We haven’t done much with animation at this company. We own Hanna-Barbera, Looney Tunes. If you take a look at animation… we have three animation studios and we don’t have a lot of production in terms of – it’s not productive in terms of free cash flow. It’s not productive in terms of market share. It’s not productive in terms of growth. And so driving that, and we now have a really strong leader. Our leadership team is in place.
Cartoon Brew’s View: While Zaslav is bullish on the company’s future feature animation ambitions under new boss Damaschke, he seems to have a very different perspective on the company’s broader animation pipeline. Warner Bros. Animation (WBA), which handles tv and direct-to-video efforts, has had one of the largest animation production slates for years, so to hear him say a year into his reign that it’s still not productive and doesn’t draw a proportionate market share is alarming. We don’t have internal data for how WBA’s tv efforts have performed, but Zaslav’s dour stance likely means there’s a bigger, yet-untold story about the unit’s output.