J.J. Abrams finalizes massive production deal with WarnerMedia
WarnerMedia has officially enlisted J.J. Abrams as it prepares to battle Netflix and Walt Disney Co. for viewers.
The powerhouse writer-director-producer, best known for directing movies such as “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and creating shows including “Lost,” has signed a multifaceted, exclusive deal to make films, TV series, video games and digital content for WarnerMedia, the company said Thursday.
WarnerMedia’s agreement with Abrams’ Santa Monica production company, Bad Robot, which he runs with his wife, Katie McGrath, takes effect immediately and runs through 2024, the firms said.
Financial terms were not disclosed. Sources had previously estimated the pact to be worth as much as $500 million, though some reports put the number significantly lower.
“We are extremely excited about the potential to deliver remarkable and memorable stories and characters across multiple platforms to audiences around the world,” WarnerMedia Chief Executive John Stankey said in a statement. " J.J., Katie and all of Bad Robot bring extraordinary vision, exquisite filmmaking, and exemplary industry leadership to this endeavor and our company.”
Abrams was long expected to take Bad Robot to WarnerMedia, the parent of HBO, the Burbank-based Warner Bros. film and TV studio, and networks including TBS and TNT.
The Times and others reported in June that Bad Robot was in advanced talks for an overarching deal with WarnerMedia, which appeared to end speculation in Hollywood over where Abrams would take his company after a long stretch making films for Viacom Inc.’s Paramount Pictures.
The deal was an outgrowth of Abrams’ longstanding relationship with WarnerMedia. Bad Robot already makes TV shows with Warner Bros., including “Westworld” on HBO and “Castle Rock” on Hulu. Abrams’ television operations have been based at Warner Bros. for 13 years and are expected to contribute programming to WarnerMedia’s streaming service, HBO Max, which launchesin the spring.
Additionally, Bad Robot last year formed a video game development division with Tencent and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. The companies said they will continue to collaborate on new large and indie consumer games for mobile, PC and console.
Bad Robot had spoken with media giants including NBCUniversal and Netflix before settling on WarnerMedia, according to people familiar with the matter.
Landing one of the biggest directors in Hollywood provides a major boost for WarnerMedia’s parent, AT&T. The telecommunications company, which purchased Warner Bros., HBO and the Turner channels last year, is trying to morph into a formidable entertainment company and needs original content for HBO Max. The service will compete directly with Disney+, coming in November, as well as Netflix.
Stankey, in the statement, credited Warner Bros. Television studio chief Peter Roth, who was instrumental in extending Abrams’ relationship with Warner Bros. With Warner Bros. Television, Abrams is producing shows including the upcoming “Lovecraft Country” for HBO and “Little Voice” for Apple TV+.
Abrams’ next theatrical release is “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” which is owned and distributed by Disney. Bad Robot will honor existing obligations to Paramount Pictures, but under the terms of the new deal, the firm will develop its original theatrical films for Warner Bros. Pictures and New Line Cinema, the companies said.
“It’s bittersweet to be leaving our longtime moviemaking home, Paramount Pictures,” Abrams said in a statement. “We are incredibly grateful to the studio team — past and present — especially the incomparable [Paramount Chairman] Jim Gianopulos and the super talented [production president] Liz Raposo.”
AT&T is under increased scrutiny by investors over the wisdom of its more than $150-billion spending spree, which included the purchase of the WarnerMedia properties in 2018 and DirecTV in 2015. Activist investor Elliott Management this week took a $3.2-billion stake in the Dallas telecommunications company and sent a letter to the board criticizing the company’s moves in entertainment.
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