“My plan and my focus is to remain here in my CEO role at WarnerMedia. I am not thinking right now about post-merger,” he said during a town hall meeting with employees today. “There will be a time to consider that topic in 2022.”
Multiple press reports after the announcement of AT&T’s planned spinoff of WarnerMedia into a new entity run by Discovery CEO David Zaslav, indicated that Kilar had been blindsided by the news.
The late-breaking events prompted WarnerMedia to add an opening segment to its virtual upfront presentation last week. It featured Kilar affirming it would be “business as usual” at WarnerMedia as the venture with Discovery is established.
The merger is expected to gain regulatory approval in the middle of next year.
When AT&T CEO John Stankey was asked by reporters about Kilar’s role in the new company in a May 17 press briefing about the deal, he said it would be up to Zaslav. “David’s got decisions he’s gotta make across a broad cross-section of how he wants to organize the business and who will be in what roles moving forward in this transition period,” Stankey said. It was left to Zaslav to offer an assessment of the WarnerMedia chief’s performance. He called Kilar a “fantastic talent” and noted that the two had been colleagues during Zaslav’s run as an NBC sales exec. Kilar was CEO of Hulu, initially a co-venture backed by NBC, Fox and later Disney.
Kilar, who also had a lengthy stint as an Amazon exec, took the helm of WarnerMedia in May 2020, the same month when HBO Max launched. He has made a number of moves to streamline operations and support of the streaming service. About 2,000 WarnerMedia staffers have departed since AT&T closed its acquisition of Time Warner in 2018.
A controversial plan to put the entire Warner Bros film slate on the service at the same time it reached theaters was another Kilar initiative. While the strategy has boosted subscriptions and also netted significant box office for releases like Godzilla vs. Kong, it strained relations with the talent community. It also resulted in near-term sacrifices in revenue in exchange for longer-term subscriber growth. All studios have had to make that tradeoff due to the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic. But most have opted to delay releases or try them as premium home entertainment titles rather than make so many of them available to streaming subscribers without an additional charge.
In 2020, Kilar earned a total pay package of $52 million, more than $49 million of which was in the form of a stock award.
Along with Kilar, speakers at the town hall included Ann Sarnoff, chair and CEO, WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group and international chief Gerhard Zeiler, one attendee said.