Warner Bros Discovery CEO David Zaslav Positions Merged Company As Fifth Broadcast Network, Skips Any Talk Of Streaming – Upfronts

David Zaslav, CEO of Warner Bros Discovery, proclaimed the merged company as essentially the fifth broadcast network, and repeated his vow that the company would overcome any skepticism about its prospects.

“I’m highly confident in our ability to thrive both creatively and financially,” he said. “Simply stated, we have the content that viewers want.”

Dropping names as is his wont, Zaslav mentioned the original Warner brothers, who founded the movie studio almost a century ago, as well as John Malone, Ted Turner and Steve Ross. One other name he cited was a bit more unexpected: Rupert Murdoch. Three decades ago, Zaslav recalled, Murdoch put the fledgling Fox broadcast network on the map by acquiring rights to the NFL.

Today, he maintained, Discovery has more reach to viewers aged 25 to 54 than any of the four major networks. bigger audience among 25-54 than any of the four broadcast networks.

Notably, Zaslav didn’t mention anything about streaming services HBO Max or Discovery+, even though both have been taking advertising since last year. Instead, he focused on the legacy of Warner Bros and the potential of the combination with Discovery, nodding to CNN and affirming he wouldn’t let it drift into rival cable news outlet’s “yelling and “advocacy.” Instead, he added, “we’re going to advocate for journalism.”

Summing up, he said, “This really is a moment, for us as a company but also for our industry.

CEOs haven’t traditionally delivered remarks at upfronts, which are more the domain of sales and programming execs, though Disney CEO Bob Chapek took the stage yesterday at Disney’s event. It didn’t surprise the crowd of ad buyers at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden to see the uber-boss take the mic, but it was unusual to see the hard-driving exec admit, “I’m nervous.” From the earliest days of the $43 billion merger of WarnerMedia and Discovery, Zaslav has made it known to those who haven’t worked for him for years that he intends to be a hands-on leader of the troops.

The merger closed last month, with AT&T spinning off WarnerMedia in the transaction, remaining a majority shareholder but ceding control of the company to Zaslav and his top execs.

The advertising market will be one of many tests for the newly combined company as it looks to maintain cash flow while also continuing its push into streaming. HBO Max, which will be the centerpiece of the streaming effort, added an ad-supported tier in mid-2021 but the company has never broken out any subscriber or revenue numbers, describing results so far as encouraging.

Uncertainty about how a pure-play media company like Discovery will reckon with the streaming transition at the same time it steams out billions in cost savings from the merger has been weighing on investors. Shares of Warner Bros Discovery are down about 30% since the deal became official on April 8.


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