DC Comics: A Death in the AT&T Family
This article was updated on 2/20/2021 with new information regarding DC Comics.
Today’s piece of news from the world of Martha’s superheroes, aka DC Comics, has me so riled up that this article started as a diatribe, saying – COMIC BOOKS ARE NOT DEAD. However, before we get to my edited version of that article, here is the news: according to insider Daniel Richtman, AT&T is willing to let DC Comics shutter its doors so that the media conglomerate can focus on HBO Max.
Are We Finally Seeing the Death of DC Comics?
Scott Campbell first reported the news on We Got This Covered (via Richtman’s Patreon) that AT&T was once again considering closing DC Comics for good.
Specifically, Ritchman said that:
AT&T doesn’t care about the comics of DC so they’re going to let DC comics die and may sell them. They only care about HBO Max and the movies.
This claim isn’t exactly new. According to Leo Sun at the Motley Fool, in 2019, after AT&T acquired Time Warner Inc., rumors started swirling that the company was planning to streamline its business and sell DC Comics. However, that never happened, and AT&T didn’t divest the 85-year-old brand with the iconic characters. (Yes, even those of us at MarvelBlog need to be entertained by Martha’s sons, at least sometimes.)
But whether or not these were just rumors, or something more nefarious is brewing in the offices of DC Comics is still up for debate.
DC Comics IS WarnerMedia (IMO)
DC Comics is a subsidiary that reports to DC Entertainment, an offshoot of Warner Bros. Global Brands and Experiences, which falls under the WarnerMedia Studio & Networks division. DC’s roster of superheroes and villains provide a lot of creative material for AT&T to mine for on-screen gold, and they do, producing a wide range of movies and TV shows based on the comic characters.
Currently, the eight DC Extended Universe films have grossed over $5.6 billion worldwide. And Jared Leto‘s Joker, which isn’t officially part of the DCEU, grossed $1.07 billion for the company, in addition to winning it two Oscars.
And the shows based on the DC Comics’ characters aren’t doing too shabby either. The CW network, which WarnerMedia co-owns with ViacomCBS, currently hosts DC’s Arrowverse, including Green Arrow, Supergirl, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Black Lightening, and Batwoman.
The Arrowverse is a big a moneymaker for its parent company, as well.
In 2016, Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes revealed the DC TV series generate a combined $1 billion ANNUALLY for the media giant. In fact, according to the Hollywood Reporter, Bewkes attributed the success of the TV series to the 2016 “Rebirth” Initiative by DC Comics, a line-wide publishing relaunch resetting the DC universe (well, kind of) penned by Geoff Johns (who is involved in the current Joss Whedon scandal).
It’s the DC shows that give WarnerMedia the edge in small screen streaming and entertainment. So it seems unlikely that AT&T will sell its media rights to those characters, but it could happen – one day, but not today.
In 2020, there were rumors that Marvel Comics was planning on buying its competitor, but those were quickly debunked by DC’s Chief Creative Officer Jim Lee (the man in charge of FanDome, which was dubious at best).
Despite AT&T’s attachment to the DCEU characters, it doesn’t seem loyal to the creators behind those billion dollar ideas, lending some credence to the belief its willing to let the DC Comics’ publishing business die.
DC Comics Enters the Era of the “Bloodbath”
If you’ve been paying attention to what’s happening at DC Comics lately, the rumors about it folding were probably not much of surprise to you. It’s been one heck of a year for the publisher. After all, more than one news outlet has reported on the “bloodbath” rocking DC this year, both in August 2020 and November 2020.
Of course, this immediately begs the question of why AT&T would single out DC Comics’ creators and artists when so much of the entertainment conglomerate’s upcoming HBO Max content is based on their written-word output. But they did, and possibly for the lamest reason in business: relocation.
Over at Bleeding Cool, it was reported that the main factor in the decision to layoff the talented artists, writers, and editors at DC Comics is the ex-DC President Diane Nielsen‘s decision to move the offices to Burbank, California in 2013. Apparently, the cost of keeping the Burbank offices open during the ongoing pandemic was enough for AT&T to consider selling an American giant.
Maybe DC Comics is losing money because they’ve been shrinking the amount of comic output each month steadily over the last few years. Even after several accounting classes, I know you have to put in money to get money.
DC Comics Annual Sales Decline… BUT DO THEY?
Are comic book sales declining? How much revenue do comics generate each year? Although this information is notoriously hard to come by, often leaving fans scratching their heads and guessing about cancellations, it’s important. It’s especially important in the time of seemingly endless mergers and acquisitions due to changes in how we consume our content.
However, as someone who has stood on the sidelines much of her life knows, it’s important to remember that sometimes what a company says is the reason behind something isn’t the complete story. So then, let’s address that rumors that comics don’t sell and don’t make money – because it isn’t true.
DC Comics did quite well in the specialty comic book market. In 2019, according to Diamond Comics, DC earned the number two spot in 2019 with a 29.29% dollar market share and a 30.74% unit market share. Additionally, that year, the company’s Detective Comics #1000 was the year’s top overall seller.
Additionally, annual comic sales in the comics specialty market increased by nearly 4% over 2018, and that’s only the growth at the local comic book shops as the distributor doesn’t track sales through bookstores or digital services.
But How Does that Translate into Money for AT&T?
AT&T doesn’t disclose the revenue of DC Comics, but instead reports the annual revenues under the WarnerMedia segment, which includes the Turner Cable Networks, HBO, and Warner Bros. Last year, it reported that Warner Bros. generated $14.4 billion in revenue, or 43% of WarnerMedia’s revenue and 8% of AT&T total revenue.
From the Motley Fool, those numbers break down like this:
[Based on] Diamond Publishing’s report that DC controlled 29% of the comic book market in 2019, we can estimate that DC’s publishing unit generated about $300 million in revenue last year.
And apparently, that’s just 0.2% of AT&T’s annual revenue – maybe AT&T’s publishing unit doesn’t directly earn it a lot of money, but it earns them loads of creative potential. Arguably, keeping DC Comics would make more sense, since it would allow AT&T to maintain control over DC’s characters.
Unless, all that money is going to fighting the creators instead of paying them – check out Time Warner’s 2011 SEC filing citing the strain of the ongoing legal battle between DC and Jerome Siegel, one of the creators of Superman.
It’s impossible to imagine Disney doing something similar. These days, Marvel Studios and Disney+ are actively mining the new cast of superheroes introduced in the last decade at Marvel Comics. According to Bleeding Cool, “while Richtman’s intel is often pretty reliable, there are definitely a whole lot of unanswered questions stemming from the tipster’s latest report.”
That’s certainly true.
BUT WHY??? COMICS ARE NOT DEAD
But in all seriousness, why? Shuttering the doors of a mainstay of American pop culture is not the answer to the media industry’s woes, especially in the long run. If AT&T lets DC Comics die, there will be a backlash from all sectors of the fandom.
Everyone loves to blame the death of one thing on another thing. It’s a song as old as time. But is it really so nefarious? Probably not, tastes change as the culture changes, but the executives have to be willing to put in the work. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like the programming heads at AT&T care to put in the work to make the model profitable.
If you can’t make BATMAN succeed on screen, then really what’s up? Marvel Comics and Kevin Feige did it with IRON MAN, a character with significantly less popularity at the time the movies came out. So, with that in mind, does the story that DC Comics needs more of their books to fly off the shelves of the local comic book shop in order for the movies to translate into better box office success make sense? Eh. Not really.
So maybe instead of folding DC Comics, everyone can stop playing the blame game about what is and isn’t valuable. Here, at Marvel Blog, we just love comics and entertainment, but if you need more convincing that comics are not dead, then here is one more analysis on the topic offered by The Beat’s Gregory Paul Silber.
UPDATE: At the DC ComicsPro virtual presentation for retailers, DC Comics reaffirmed its commitment to publishing new comics and periodicals for 2021, citing an August 2020 interview Lee did with Hollywood Reporter, saying: “We are still in the business of publishing comics.”
Source: We Got This Covered via Patreon