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.
Zaslav spoke from the iconic Warner Brothers movie studio lot in California and was seen by employees around the world on a live stream.
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.
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.
“It’s going to take us a little while” to pull it off from a technical standpoint, he said, but there will be “one platform that we take everywhere in the world in every language.”
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. But he made the case that consumers want “easy, easy, easy,” rather than switching between multiple services.
At the same time, he 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.
Zaslav praised CNN’s recent coverage of the war in Ukraine, saying, “they’re showing everybody what a great journalistic organization looks like.”
Winfrey, who co-owns a lifestyle channel with Warner Bros. Discovery, asked Zaslav, “What is your charge to Chris Licht,” the incoming chair and CEO of CNN, and Zaslav cited a shared goal of “great journalism.” At CNN, he said, “the objective isn’t going to be to maximize profitability. It’s going to be to maximize impact.”
Zaslav said sports will also be a priority. Last week he said in a memo that he is seeking a chair and CEO for Warner Bros. Discovery Sports.
During the town hall, Zaslav asked the company’s some 40,000-odd staffers, many of whom are concerned about the possibility of layoffs, to “be patient with us” as executives work out the new structure and where cuts might come from.
Zaslav said he anticipated that a majority of the cost savings Wall Street is expecting from the combined company will come from avoiding new investments, especially in areas of overlap. He pointed specifically to hundreds of millions of dollars budgeted for marketing Discovery+ and HBO Max separately and said combining the two meant only having to market one service.
He also touted his plan to have fewer layers than in the legacy WarnerMedia structure “because that means more empowerment” for staffers.
Zaslav, who is one of the highest-paid CEOs in the country, also talked about rough points in his own career, observing that it wasn’t a straight upward trajectory. Setbacks were frustrating, he said, but eventually “I put my big boy pants on” and came out better off.