New Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav keynoted a "town hall" event on the Warner Bros. studio lot in Burbank, California Thursday, introducing himself to the rank and file by getting interviewed by the company's most famous employee, Oprah Winfrey.
The event, details of which were leaked and reported on to the various Penske Media conglomerated trade pubs, was part of an ongoing introductory tour being conducted by Zaslav since the $43 billion spin-off of WarnerMedia from AT&T and the merger of it with Discovery was completed late last week.
For employees on the WarnerMedia side, who survived several rounds of brutal restructuring conducted under former chief Jason Kilar following AT&T's $85 billion purchase of the media company, reassurance from Zaslav's town hall remarks was probably nowhere to be found.
"We are going to focus on less layers and be more entrepreneurial,” Zaslav said. “In some areas there will be less people …”
Zaslav has promised Warner Bros. Discovery investors $3 billion in cost trims in the first year -- a savings built largely on job cuts for execs and workers deemed redundant following the merger.
“There’s a process and a team from both sides who has been working hard on these plans,” Zaslav added. “In the area where Warner and Discovery have largely different business (i.e. sports, movies) there will be less change.”
Zaslav undoubtedly took comfort in making these unsettling declarations to Winfrey, a long-time ally who partnered her Harpo Productions with Discovery back in 2008 to launch the Oprah Winfrey Network. Winfrey sold her stake in OWN to Discovery in 2020, but signed a contract to remain the face of the network through 2025.
In a move that seemed an attempt to convey trust in Zaslav, Winfrey acknowledged OWN's early struggles, noting that she was at one point "failing publicly" after experiencing "25 years of success."
And if Warner employees weren't already assured their own vulnerability was safe in the hands of their gentle, pink-slipping new overlord, Winfrey steered the conversation to the sacred ground of a Warner Bros. historical reference, a box that Zaslav's just-departed predecessor, Kilar, always seemed to assiduously check off.
Winfrey noted her first film, 1985's The Color Purple, was produced by Warner Bros., and that she recently signed on to produce a musical version of the movie for the studio.
For his part, Zaslav showed off the padfolio once gifted to him by late Time Warner chief Steven Jay Ross, telling the town hall audience that he plans to keep it at his new desk to pay homage to the 99-year-old studio.
WarnerMedia and Discovery, he noted, have a “rendezvous with destiny.” ■
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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