Some eighteen months ago, the company once known as WarnerMedia announced that it was going to increase its investment in kids and family content tenfold. At the time, then-C.E.O. Jason Kilar, under the auspices of AT&T and John Stankey, was planning to order more than 3,000 episodes and films for the family division of HBO Max and the Cartoon Network, which was set to become a cornerstone brand for the streaming service. This was part of a broader directional recognition that streaming services needed to provide bundled value to all members of a family unit. In 2019, after all, with Disney+’s launch on the horizon, Netflix doubled down on its own family and children’s programming, which was being watched by about 60 percent of the platform’s global audience. Kilar was determined to fight for market share.
Ever since WarnerMedia and Discovery combined to create Warner Bros. Discovery, however, C.E.O. David Zaslav has treated many of Kilar’s decisions as mere suggestions or simply irritants as he seeks to manage Wall Street’s expectations by finding $3 billion in synergies across the company, simultaneously growing its streaming ambitions while paying down its staggering debt. CNN+ was an early casualty. As my partner Matt Belloni has noted, even J.J. Abrams is susceptible to Zaz’s cost-cutting.
This Friday, WBD announced that it wasn’t going to renew Gordita Chronicles, its live-action kids series. And, beyond that, the company is backing away from investment in live-action kids and family programming for HBO Max. Cartoons are still safe—animated series actually make up a meaningful percentage of HBO Max’s most in-demand series, according to Parrot Analytics research, where I work—but the kid-friendly, live-action fare once at the heart of Kilar’s programming strategy, particularly for HBO Max, is now kaput. “Live-action kids and family programming will not be part of our programming focus in the immediate future, and as a result, we’ve had to make the very difficult decision to end Gordita Chronicles at HBO Max,” the network said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter on Friday, putting a finer point on things.