Discovery CEO David Zaslav said WarnerMedia’s content machine plus his company’s global reach will more than secure the merged ops a place at the Netflix and Disney+ winners table. At a media conference Tuesday, he gave multiple shout-outs to Casey Bloys, HBO’s hit The Mare of Easttown, CNN/Jeff Zucker, theatrical releases and an advertising-light streaming strategy.
“I am moving right into the Warner Bros. lot. I want to be where the content is made,” he said during a long Q&A at Credit Suisse. It “starts with the motion picture business and no one can open a picture anywhere in the world like Warner Bros,” he said. “We will lean into the motion business because it is a real strategic advantage. Because that’s where stars are made. They didn’t go to Hollywood to do a TV show that gets on a streaming service.”
He talked about the small screen too, mostly HBO’s Kate Winslet-starring seven-part series Mare of Easttown that just concluded. He said guests at a recent Sunday dinner party he attended rushed home to catch the show.
Zaslav’s dance card over the last few weeks since the deal was announced has been full of town halls and investor meetings to soothe staffers at WarnerMedia, which is changing hands again after just three years, and Wall Streeters who are also wary. AT&T on May 17 announced a $43-billion deal to spin off WarnerMedia and merge it with Discovery forming a new standalone company. AT&T shareholders will own over 70% of the stock in the new company, Discovery holders the rest.
It’s expected to close in the middle of next year and meanwhile execs will be aligning on org charts, melding corporate cultures and working on the Big Question – what kind of streaming service/services will emerge from HBO Max and Discovery+? And CNN+, which AT&T CEO John Stankey confirmed last week will be happening. With or without commercials? At what price point?
“We have some really good ideas but we are going to learn a lot over the next (months) and we will come to you with our strategy outside the U.S. when we are ready. Inside the U.S., we also have a very good idea of what we are going to do and how we can aggregate a massive audience … But I think we’ve got to wait for that and we will be trying a lot of things, [will] look at how competitors are doing, how we’re doing and listening to what consumers want.”
“We will be ready. If it’s nine months or 12 or 15 month, well be ready to go,” he said,
Zaslav said TBS and TNT, viewed as declining linear assets, should be considered for their sport portfolio, including the NBA, Major League Baseball, NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship, ELEAGUE and professional golf, along with the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League. “Everything but the NFL,” he said.
“Look under that hood, I think it’s a very clever strategy. It protects the downside and assures yourself a good piece of the advertising pie.”
Discovery brings a stable including Oprah, Chip and Joanna Gaines, Guy Fieri and dozens of others. Its global reach, which can be a hard story for investors to warm to, makes it probably “the most complicated media company in the world today,” Zaslav said.
“What we did is very hard,” he said of working local production in over 200 countries, local sports in 56 countries with accompanying sports rights deals, distribution deals, working with mobile players in every country. “What should we put on the air in Italy and what are the sports that are really popular in Poland (ski jumping apparently) or Holland (hand ball)?
“A lot of the U.S. players came over and looked at Eurosport [which Discovery acquired in 2014] and said, ‘It’s so hard.’ Forty languages. We get spoiled in the U.S..”