Speaking to advertisers at the first upfronts pitch by WarnerBros Discovery since its merger, CEO David Zaslav proclaimed it as essentially the fifth U.S. broadcast network and vowed that it would overcome any skepticism about its prospects.
“I’m highly confident in our ability to thrive both creatively and financially,” he said. “Our extraordinary people and creative partners, these diverse perspectives and experiences are invaluable to our organization and our storytelling.” He also called out the company’s “world-class production and distribution capabilities” and the array of film and TV fare it brings to the table. “Simply stated, we have the content that viewers want,” he said.
Warner Bros. Discovery Upfront: Deadline’s Complete Coverage
One year ago this week, Zaslav recalled, Discovery and AT&T stunned the industry and Wall Street by announcing the merger, which was negotiated in secret. “Against all odds,” Zaslav said of the deal. “But we’re here, and we couldn’t be happier. … We couldn’t be more excited about what we’re doing, and we’re humbled by everything it represents and the opportunity that lies ahead.”
Dropping names (as is his wont), Zaslav shouted out Discovery talent in attendance at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden. He also mentioned the original Warner brothers, who founded the namesake movie studio almost a century ago, as well as John Malone, Ted Turner and Steve Ross, pledging to “carry forward the vision” they all had for the media business. Another luminary he cited was a more unexpected one: Rupert Murdoch. Three decades ago, Zaslav recalled, Murdoch not only did the improbable and “broadened the landscape,” launching a fourth broadcast network, and giving it fuel with rights to the NFL.
Upfront Week 2022 Presentation & Party Schedule
Today, Zaslav maintained, Discovery has more reach to viewers aged 25 to 54 than any of the four major networks. bigger audience among 25-54 than any of the four broadcast networks.
Notably, Zaslav didn’t mention anything about streaming services HBO Max or Discovery+, even though both have been taking advertising since last year. Instead, he focused on the legacy of Warner Bros and the potential of the combination with Discovery, singling out CNN and affirming he wouldn’t let it drift into rival cable news outlets’ fractious and partisan approaches. Instead, he said, “we intend to advocate for journalism … for facts and for truth. And to advocate for underserved news consumers and Americans who are seeking more accurate information and less yelling and conflict.”
Summing up, he said, “This really is a moment, for us as a company but also for our industry.”
Mindy Kaling Addresses Turning ‘Velma’ Into Story About South Asian Crime Solver: ‘If People Freak Out About That, I Don’t Care’
CEOs haven’t traditionally delivered remarks at upfronts, which are more the domain of sales and programming execs, though Disney CEO Bob Chapek took the stage yesterday at Disney’s event. It didn’t surprise the crowd of ad buyers at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden to see the uber-boss take the mic, but it was unusual to see the hard-driving exec admit, “I’m a little nervous.” From the earliest days of the $43 billion merger of WarnerMedia and Discovery, Zaslav has made it known to those who haven’t worked for him for years that he intends to be a hands-on leader of the troops.
“It’s a big day for me,” Zaslav said. “It’s a big day for us. It’s a real moment, us coming together as one company.”
The merger closed last month, with AT&T spinning off WarnerMedia in the transaction, remaining a majority shareholder but ceding control of the company to Zaslav and his top execs.
The response of the advertising market to the company’s welter of mostly cable network assets will be one of many tests for the newly combined company. Like its traditional media peers, it is looking to maintain steady revenue while also continuing to fund its push into streaming. HBO Max, which will be the centerpiece of the streaming effort, added an ad-supported tier in mid-2021 but the company has not broken out any subscriber or revenue numbers, describing results so far as encouraging.
Uncertainty about how a pure-play media company like Discovery will reckon with the streaming transition at the same time it seeks to wring billions in cost savings from the merged entity has been weighing on investors. Shares of Warner Bros Discovery are down about 30% since the deal became official on April 8.
Must Read Stories
Subscribe to Deadline Breaking News Alerts and keep your inbox happy.