WarnerMedia-Discovery merger could save CNN’s Jeff Zucker: sources

David Zaslav — the always-working, fleece-wearing chief govt officer of Discovery — is anticipated to run the brand new media conglomerate he’s forming with AT&T with slightly assist from his mates.

And that could result in a few of the prime media executives who did not thrive below telecom big AT&T returning to the fold, together with CNN chief Jeff Zucker and ex-HBO chief David Plepler, sources stated.

Zucker, chairman of WarnerMedia News and sports activities and president of CNN worldwide, introduced earlier this year that he would be stepping down on the finish of 2021 amid studies that he had been clashing with Jason Kilar, employed final yr by AT&T to run WarnerMedia.

Now, with AT&T bidding farewell to WarnerMedia by merging it with Discovery, insiders say they anticipate Zucker to remain and Kilar to depart.

On Monday AT&T and Discovery stated they plan to mix their media items in a transfer that can be part of WarnerMedia networks like CNN, HBO, and Hollywood studio Warner Bros. with Discovery channels such because the Food Network, TLC and Animal Planet. The deal will shut in 2022, forming a brand new media big to be run by Zaslav.

President and CEO of Discovery David Zaslav in Beverly Hills on July 25, 2019.

Zaslav had met over the previous few months with AT&T CEO John Stankey to tug the $43 billion deal collectively, which included clandestine conferences at Zaslav’s Greenwich Village brownstone, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Although there haven’t been any “formal talks” about management positions, one supply stated Zaslav will doubtless have his longtime {golfing} buddy Zucker oversee an expanded information and sports activities portfolio. Zucker didn’t reply to requests for remark.

Kilar was saved at the hours of darkness in regards to the Discovery deal till not too long ago, sources stated. According to studies, the exec has employed a authorized staff to barter his exit package deal.

WarnerMedia declined to touch upon Kilar’s behalf. Discovery additionally declined to remark.

Kilar, a former Amazon and Hulu exec, was employed by AT&T only 12 months ago. He rapidly led a large restructuring of WarnerMedia that despatched well-respected division executives packing, together with chairman Bob Greenblatt and chief content officer Kevin Reilly.

Kilar additionally shattered the theatrical window by sending newly launched Warner Bros. motion pictures like “Tom & Jerry” on to streaming service HBO Max a month after they premiered in film theaters.

Although the transfer was meant to spice up pandemic gross sales, it rankled Hollywood. And prime brass has grown weary of HBO Max’s gradual subscriber progress, sources stated. In the newest quarter, HBO Max and HBO notched 41 million domestic subscribers, a mere 8 million subscribers achieve from a yr earlier.

While many credit score Kilar with making significant modifications on the firm, these two points helped seal his destiny, sources stated.

Other media confidants insiders see Zaslov tapping to assist run the brand new enterprise embrace Plepler, the ex-HBO chief who was pushed out by AT&T in 2019, and Oprah Winfrey, who launched the Oprah Winfrey Network with Discovery.

Oprah Winfrey and David Zaslav, CEO Discovery Communications, attend a particular screening of Winfrey’s tv collection “Belief” on Oct. 15, 2015 in New York.
AP Images for Oprah Winfrey Network

Plepler, the previous chairman and CEO of HBO who hangs out with Zaslav within the Hamptons, could be requested to return to run the film studio of the conglomerate, sources stated.

Plepler left HBO in early 2019, shortly after AT&T closed its deal to purchase Time Warner for $85 billion. The sudden departure of the leisure executives answerable for iconic like “Game of Thrones,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Sex and the City” sent shock waves by way of the business.

Of course, Plepler might not be accessible. In 2020 he inked a five-year deal with Apple to develop and produce unique collection, characteristic movies and documentaries for its streaming service Apple TV+ by way of his new enterprise, Eden Productions. It’s not clear, nonetheless, what content material Eden has produced for Apple.

One inside supply stated Winfrey can be anticipated to “be part of the mix” and can doubtless have a much bigger platform on the newly mixed firm.

A longtime Zaslav collaborator, Winfrey inked a joint-venture with Discovery to type Oprah Winfrey Network or OWN in 2008, leading to reveals like “Oprah Winfrey’s Master Class” and “Super Soul Sunday.”

As a part of the WarnerMedia-Discovery deal, Discovery shareholders will personal 29 % of the brand new firm. In December, Winfrey took a $36 million stake in Discovery, amounting to lower than 1 %, as a part of a brand new deal that may permit her to swap most of her curiosity in OWN.

A Discovery rep didn’t remark, however famous that the brand new firm has but to call its board members. Reps for Oprah didn’t remark.

Oprah Winfrey captured throughout a video occasion on December 19, 2020 in New York City.
Getty Images for Global Citizen

During a press briefing Monday morning Zaslav and AT&T’s Stankey had been peppered with questions in regards to the firm’s management going ahead.

“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 stated.

At the time WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey, who now could be the CEO of AT&T, was attempting to make manner for HBO Max, the corporate’s new streaming service.

Plepler declined to remark.

An insider with data of Zaslav’s considering stated the exec is seeking to spend money on content material and storytelling. Although Zaslav and Stankey stated the deal will garner $3 billion in synergies, the insider stated financial savings received’t come within the type of content material funding. This yr alone, when mixed Discovery and WarnerMedia spent a whopping $20 billion in content material.

“At the end of the day, content is king,” stated one other supply, earlier than turning to AT&T’s resolution to shed its media belongings.

“AT&T needed to invest so much into developing 5G technology,” the supply stated. “They need to focus on that. They don’t want to deal with stock fluctuations based on a bad movie review or a scandal at CNN. Everything in magnified when you own media.”

John Stankey, President & Chief Operating Officer of AT&T, on October 29, 2019 in Burbank, California.
Getty Images for WarnerMedia

One Zaslav pal who insiders hope isn’t resurrected is Andy Lack, the longtime NBC News chairman who left the network in 2020 after Ronan Farrow’s ebook “Catch and Kill” accused him and his right-hand man Noah Oppenheim of killing his Harvey Weinstein reporting. Lack could not be reached for remark.

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