Hi, welcome to Dilemmas of Meaning, a journal at the intersection of philosophy, culture, and technology. I’m doing something different in this newsletter. Some who know me, know I have a tendency to fall down rabbit holes in trying to answer interesting questions. Here, in seeking to answer the question, how does Warner Bros. Discover get to cancel films for a tax write-off? I found myself deep in SEC fillings and reading some recent history. If you too are curious about the answer or want a deeper understanding on our current media landscape, enjoy.
The nineteen-month-old Warner Bros Discovery (WBD) is already losing money. Despite riding this summer's Barbenheimer phenomenon to break their own records, they've had to become financially creative. For a mass media and entertainment conglomerate, you might think the plan ought to be trying to release more profitable mass media and entertainment. However, WBD has gone for something simpler: they've removed releasing from the plan.
Earlier this month, word leaked that WBD would be shelving the unreleased film, Coyote vs ACME —taking a $30 million tax write-off. This marks the third film killed by the house that Jack (Warner) built for tax benefits after Batgirl and Scoob!:Holiday Haunt. Shelving films in progress is an unfortunate reality of the industry, but the implication that the work of many will never enjoy public consumption for a tax cut has caused uproar and disbelief. Coyote vs ACME is different. Allegedly, the film was both finished and good. Barbie, on its way to break records, started by replacing Coyote vs ACME in the summer schedule. A major movie studio has decided to take the tax savings from cancelling a finished film rather than enjoy the revenues it might generate.