On Monday, news broke that AT&T, the parent company of WarnerMedia, is planning massive layoffs throughout the media conglomerate. These layoffs include over 600 workers, including some longtime veterans. There’ll also be some reorganization, meant to consolidate leadership/management roles.
Over on the DC Comics side of things, Comics Beat reports a third of editorial’s been let go, including editor-in-chief Bob Harras. Jim Lee will be performing some sort of liaison position between DC and other WarnerMedia divisions.
DC’s editorial side will for now be headed up by Marie Javins, formerly Executive Editor of Global Publishing Initiatives and Digital Strategy, and Michelle Wells, formerly Executive Editor of DC’s Children’s/Young Adult division (i.e. the line of DC YA graphic novels). This marks the first time in the company’s history that two women will be in charge of editorial.
Finally, most of the DC Universe division’s been laid off, which doesn’t bode well for its future.
That said, this isn’t a good week for WarnerMedia and DC’s employees. From social media, morale’s not very high… which makes it ironic DC plans on holding a virtual convention, “DC FanDome,” in a few weeks.
Why is AT&T doing all this?
There’s multiple reasons Ma Bell has decided to start handing out pink slips like candy. For starters, there’s the nature of mergers leading to job losses, regardless of rhetoric claiming otherwise.
Next, AT&T is a whopping $160 billion in debt, largely from buying WarnerMedia as well as DirecTV, and investors aren’t pleased.
The pandemic’s shut down a lot of media production, and decimated this summer’s movie releases.
AT&T’s moves also make clear their goal is to shore up and promote HBO Max as a Netflix-tier streaming service. Until the buyout, WarnerMedia’s individual divisions seemed more self-managing fiefdoms, versus the synergy over at Disney. The assets that were under Turner (CNN, Cartoon Network, etc.) never felt completely integrated with, say, the DC Comics or HBO sides of things. I’d assume some of the reorganizing is meant to more tightly integrate WarnerMedia’s assets, and better serve HBO Max.
Unfortunately, HBO Max so far isn’t exactly taking the world by storm. As of the end of June, out of potentially 23.6 million HBO subscriptions that can access HBO Max, only 1.2 million of those have done so. Including another 3 million that signed up for Max manually, and that’s a total of about 4 million active HBO Max users. There’s also 5.9 million cable HBO subscribers that can’t access Max (due to no cable company agreement with AT&T to allow such), and 3.9 million lingering HBO Now (now just called plain HBO) subscribers. The latter’s likely from HBO Max’s biggest problem (and reason for its anemic numbers): it’s not available on Roku or Fire TV. That’s a problem that needs fixing as soon as possible.
Finally, on the DC side of things, AT&T doesn’t seem particularly nostalgic or concerned about running a print comics operation. It likely views DC’s intellectual property as valuable assets for movies, TV shows, and mainstream merchandise. By “mainstream merchandise” I mean things like lunch boxes, toys, etc; not as much direct market comic collector merchandise—DC Direct‘s also been shuttered.
What does all this mean for DC’s future? As of this writing, nobody’s really sure.
I’ve seen some speculate DC will put more emphasis on young adult graphic novels and digital comics, with less emphasis on paper singles. While this might be an interesting change, it’s one that might make direct market comic shops livid.
For now, I’m assuming DC’s single-issue paper comics will continue as normal. I highly doubt they’ll license out publishing of such to IDW/Dark Horse/etc. And no, Warner isn’t selling DC to Disney, which would be impossible anyway. It’d violate what semblance of antitrust laws still exist—Disney would own over two-thirds of the direct market as a result.
The departure of Bob Harras and apparent promotion of Javins and Wells might be one small bright spot in all this. It could mean a DC Comics culture that’s more welcoming and diverse, versus sheltering sexual harassers like Eddie Berganza. Maybe it’ll also lessen the 90s comics-esque “darker and edgier” tone DC’s had for years, with Harras (and a few months earlier, DiDio) now gone.
That said, a mass layoff isn’t how I hoped such would happen. Hopefully, the displaced WarnerMedia/DC employees will find other work. Also hopefully, DC’s future won’t be as bleak as others are fearing.
On the streaming media side, I assume DC Universe will shut down soon, with the current and back catalog material transferred to HBO Max. Whether Warner will keep DCU going as a Marvel Unlimited-like comics subscription service is debatable.