15 APR 2022

Warner Bros. Discovery, first insights from a new company

David Zaslav sketched out his vision for the newly formed Warner Bros. Discovery in his first global town hall with the new company's employees on Thursday.

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David Zaslav, the longtime leader of Discovery, sketched out his vision for the newly formed Warner Bros. Discovery in his first global town hall with the new company's employees on Thursday. According to CNN, Zaslav spoke from the iconic Warner Brothers movie studio lot in California and was seen by employees worldwide on a live stream. "We have the goods. We have the chance to be the greatest media company," Zaslav said, invoking the names of rivals, chiefly Netflix and Disney. The session, which was hosted by Oprah Winfrey, who co-owns a lifestyle channel with Warner Bros. Discovery, at times felt like an episode of her old talk show. Zaslav held a padfolio that belonged to legendary former Warner boss Steven J. Ross and spoke of his love for Hollywood storytelling.

The event was part of an ongoing introductory tour being conducted by Zaslav since the $43 billion spin-off of WarnerMedia from AT&T, and its merger with Discovery was completed late last week. For employees on the WarnerMedia side, who survived several rounds of restructuring conducted under former chief Jason Kilar following AT&T's $85 billion purchase of the media company, reassurance from Zaslav's town hall remarks was probably nowhere to be found.

Zaslav has promised Warner Bros. Discovery investors $3 billion in cost trims in the first year, a savings built largely on job cuts for execs and workers deemed redundant following the merger. "We are going to focus on less layers and be more entrepreneurial,” Zaslav said. “In some areas there will be less people. There’s a process and a team from both sides who has been working hard on these plans. In the area where Warner and Discovery have largely different business (i.e. sports, movies) there will be less change,” he added.

Moreover, Zaslav confirmed that the newly-merged Discovery and WarnerMedia, including CNN, will combine many types of programming, from HBO's gritty dramas to Food Network's grits recipes, on a single global streaming platform. This will portend changes to some of the company's existing ventures, including HBO Max and the new CNN+ streaming service. Zaslav did not go into any detail. "It's going to take us a little while to pull it off from a technical standpoint, but there will be one platform that we take everywhere in the world in every language," Zazlav said.

Zaslav undoubtedly took comfort in making these unsettling declarations to Winfrey, a long-time ally who partnered her Harpo Productions with Discovery back in 2008 to launch the Oprah Winfrey Network. Winfrey sold her stake in OWN to Discovery in 2020, but signed a contract to remain the face of the network through 2025. In a move that seemed an attempt to convey trust in Zaslav, Winfrey acknowledged OWN's early struggles, noting that she was at one point "failing publicly" after experiencing "25 years of success."

At the same time, Zaslav said Warner Bros. Discovery's traditional business, its many cable and satellite channels and production outlets, are a big and profitable advantage for the company. He also said that sports would also be a priority. Last week he said in a memo that he is seeking a Chair and CEO for Warner Bros. Discovery Sports.