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Warner Bros. Discovery Ad Head on Upfronts: ‘We’re Being Patient’

Jon Steinlauf with Doug Mitchelson at Credit Suisse conference
Jon Steinlaauf (left) speaking with Credit Suisse analyst Doug Mitchelson

While other media companies say they’re nearly done with their upfronts, Warner Bros. Discovery is moving a bit slower.

Speaking at the Credit Suisse investor conference Wednesday, Jon Steinlauf, chief U.S. advertising sales officer for WBD, said he wouldn’t talk about the upfront market while the company was still in the market.

“We're active. We're negotiating. We're talking to everybody. We're closing deals. We're being patient,” Steinlauf said.

On Tuesday executives from Comcast NBCUniversal, Paramount and Fox all said at the conference they were close to done with their upfront deals.

Buyers have said that WBD has been holding out for bigger price increases than the 6% to 12% hikes this year’s market is yielding, depending on who you talk to.

Both WarnerMedia and Discovery, which combined to form WBD earlier this year, have linear cable networks in their linear  portfolio, but not broadcast networks, which command higher rates and steeper increases. David Zaslav, CEO of WBD, has long chafed at the differential between the prices broadcast networks get for their ads and how much Discovery’s cable ads bring in.

Buyers were resisting WBD’s demand for higher pricing. “We don’t want to pay for their merger,” said one buyer, noting the debt the company took on to do the deal.

At the Credit Suisse conference, Steinlauf said WBD’s goal going in was to have the company thought of as “a player at the table with four others that are competing for the most coveted advertising.”  The other four all have broadcast networks.

Steinlauf also said that the combined company was packaging its most attractive and highest-rated shows in a bundle it calls Discovery Premier. That bundle includes sports, entertainment, lifestyle, news and syndication. That’s a different approach than buyers are used to.

“This is a process that requires more complexity than they’ve seen in the past,” Steinlauf said. “However they really like what we’re doing because we’ve created a one-stop shop for the best of Warner Bros. Discovery and all these great brands.” ■

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.