There was very little doubt before that WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar would exit the company on, or just before, AT&T closed its $43 billion spin-off of its media division and its subsequent merger with Discovery.
And now, it's official. Kilar sent a cordial note to staff Tuesday morning, formalizing his departure from the company.
The 50-year-old executive, who has already successfully transitioned from prior stops as the leader of Hulu and of Amazon's books and video business, didn't reveal any details about his exit package.
Certainly, what he accomplished in just two years at WarnerMedia is impressive. He joined the operation just prior to its ambitious launch of HBO Max, an initially floundering effort, hamstrung by pandemic production paralysis and lack of distribution on key platforms including Roku and Amazon Fire TV.
But HBO Max ended 2021 surging, with nearly 74 million subscribers globally and the wind at its back, following the launch of numerous hit series and movies.
It could have gone the other way. Kilar initiated several rounds of bloody restructuring, and his plan to redirect the 2021 Warner Bros. theatrical release slate to day-and-date distribution on HBO Max -- now largely deemed prescient after a year in which Delta and Omicron variants kept the box office mostly locked down -- was met with initial furor by the now sanguine Hollywood creative community.
Following publication of his memo Tuesday, Kilar made some press rounds, remarking to Deadline about his day-and-date decision, "History is already looking at it quite favorably."
Indeed, Kilar survived all of it, building HBO Max into a prestige SVOD brand, on par with what the HBO brand represented to premium cable just a decade earlier. For his efforts, he'll be shown the door amid an AT&T decision-making culture forever striving for coherence, and the more fortunately positioned David Zaslav, CEO of the company that is buying WarnerMedia, and who will assume the role of chief executive of the new Warner Bros. Discovery.
Let it never be said that life, or American capitalism, is fair. Here's Kilar's April 5 memo to staff:
With the pending transaction with Discovery nearing close, now is the right time to share with each of you that I will be departing this amazing company.
There are many feelings one could have in a moment like this, but for me there are none bigger, or more lasting, than the feelings of gratitude and love that I have for this team, this company and this mission. I’ve never been more fulfilled professionally. I’ve never been happier professionally. This team – and what we’ve built together – are the reasons for that. We’re leading the industry creatively. We’ve elevated technology, product, and design to the highest levels in the company. We’re operating as one team, proudly and successfully going direct to consumers across the globe. It has been deeply gratifying to lean into the future alongside each of you and to do so with conviction.
The joys are many, especially the walk-and-talks that I’ve had with a great many WarnerMedia team members, diving deeply into the matters at hand, whether on the storied lot in Burbank, along The High Line at Hudson Yards, in and around Techwood and CNN Center, inside our archives, across the expansive lot at Leavesden, at any of our game studio locations, or the many other locations where this team quite literally changes the world. Apparently, word has gotten around that when Jason calls for a walk-and-talk, be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes!
For those of you that know me well (or follow me on Twitter), it comes as no surprise that I adore our history and the footprint we have as a company across the globe. I’ve done my best to visit and get to know as many of you as possible and to photographically document my love for this team and this company along the way via social media. So, when my wife Jamie and I were thinking about what we could do on our own to adequately express our appreciation to each of you, we came up with the idea to create a series of artifacts featuring some of the photos I’ve taken to celebrate this team and WarnerMedia. We’re inviting each of you to visit this website and choose an image that resonates…from the iconic Warner Bros. water tower, the gleaming towers of Hudson Yards, the virtual production stage in Leavesden, and several more. An artifact featuring that image (and a note from me on the back) will be shipped to you in the coming weeks. Our hope is that this memento will bring a smile and remind you of the important contributions we’ve made to the 99-year legacy of this extraordinary company.
Leading this team has been the honor of my lifetime. My heart is so full, and I am beyond thankful to each of you. There is no better team on the planet, and I will savor every last step as I wander the lot in Burbank several more times this week, with this team on my mind, always.
Daniel Frankel is the managing editor of Next TV, an internet publishing vertical focused on the business of video streaming. A Los Angeles-based writer and editor who has covered the media and technology industries for more than two decades, Daniel has worked on staff for publications including E! Online, Electronic Media, Mediaweek, Variety, paidContent and GigaOm. You can start living a healthier life with greater wealth and prosperity by following Daniel on Twitter today!
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