Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav and other top executives meet with employees at a town hall this morning at the Warner lot in Burbank. This is the first full-scale staff meeting since the $43 billion merger closed last Friday.
Attendees told Deadline that the event began with Oprah Winfrey interviewing Zaslav on stage, asking him to describe how the deal came about. AT&T CEO John Stankey wanted to accelerate the spinoff of the company’s entertainment assets, he explained. Additionally, WarnerMedia and Discovery were looking to expand into streaming to better compete with Netflix and Disney.
Winfrey’s OWN started in 2008 as a joint venture with Discovery, but is now mostly controlled by Warner Bros. Discovery. In late 2020, she sold nearly her entire stake for $36 million in Discovery stock through her company, Harpo. The move gave Discovery nearly 95% of the entity (down from 73%), but Winfrey also signed on to remain a key contributor and creative supervisor at OWN through 2025.
In addition to Winfrey, notable figures from Warner Bros. history are in the town hall audience. One is Mark Ross, son of Warner Communications boss Steve Ross, and the other is Cass Warner, granddaughter of Harry Warner, one of the original Warner brothers who founded the studio nearly 100 years ago. a century.
Prior to today’s event, Zaslav hosted a series of small meetings with workers in New York, Washington and Atlanta. Since the deal was first proposed last May, he and Discovery Brass have worked to deepen their understanding of Warner’s business, although until the official closing they faced some regulatory constraints. .
WarnerMedia’s spin-off from AT&T and combination with Discovery has created one of the largest companies in the media industry. While Discovery only controls 29% of the new entity, it has operational control.
Many eyes are on Zaslav, not just within the company but across the industry, as he sets out to integrate the two major companies, whose combined annual revenue exceeds $50 billion. He promised Wall Street $3 billion in savings from the deal, which translates into a significant number of layoffs. Other than a series of high-profile departures last week, with the former CEO of WarnerMedia and several of his direct reports leaving the fold, the extent and nature of the cuts are still unclear.
Streaming, of course, will be a strategic centerpiece at Warner Bros. Discovery. The company intends to make HBO Max the primary vessel for acquiring customers. Discovery+, the subscription service launched in January 2021, has seen steady but not spectacular growth and will be integrated into HBO Max in the months or possibly years to come. (Many technological and logistical hurdles will prevent this from being an instant process.)
Keep checking here for more Town Hall updates.