Pod: David Zaslav “May Have Hubris but He's Not Stupid”
Recode’s Peter Kafka helps the team break down what's coming with Warner Bros. Discovery
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Today’s Ankler Hot Seat podcast is hosted by Janice Min, Richard Rushfield and Tatiana Siegel, and welcomes guest Peter Kafka, senior correspondent at Recode.
Kafka, who conducted one of the final interviews with outgoing WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar, weighs in on what to expect as the new Warner Bros. Discovery regime takes shape (and also speculates as to why Kilar has done so much press around his departure): “[Zaslav] has promised to cut $3 billion out of the budget somehow. So everyone who complained about the last three years of cuts under AT&T and Kilar should be ready for more, and I think they know that’s coming,” says Kafka, host of the podcast Recode Media.
“He has not been forthright about what he intends to do with programming. You know, if you ask him how are you going to compete with Netflix spending $20 billion, he’ll say, ‘We’re already spending that,’” adds Kafka. “But that’s not a real number because that includes what he’s spending on his linear programming.”
The veteran chronicler of the high-stakes worlds of media and technology also explains that the vest-wearing mogul has “played it fairly close to the vest up until now,” but now that the deal is closed and Zaslav can explain his plans, Hollywood is hanging with bated breath. “But we don't know [what Zaslav plans to do] is the short answer.”
Rushfield juxtaposed the legacy culture of Warner Bros. past and the frugal unscripted-driven Discovery and how the two may mesh (or not): “Private jets for all, unlimited expense accounts, everybody gets six assistants” versus the “company largely populated by [low-cost] reality.”
As for what went wrong with AT&T ownership of WarnerMedia, Kafka shares an interesting theory. “There is an anecdote that James Andrew Miller has reported [and] I've heard as well about an AT&T executive being surprised to learn that all of HBO or TNT…that their content didn't come from Warner Bros. (but is instead bought from outside suppliers). And they had to learn that once they bought the company. And that person I've heard that's John Stankey. Again, anyone who listens to this podcast understands that it's really mind-boggling to think that the people being paid tens of millions of dollars to spend $110 billion on this stuff didn't really understand at all what they were getting into.”
In other subjects, the hosts discuss looming headaches for Warner Bros. via its profitable but scandal-plagued DC universe. Siegel has been covering the fallout following a series of troubling incidents involving The Flash star Ezra Miller. Also on the docket: ESG appraises Shonda Rhimes vs. Ryan Murphy and their respective nine-figure deals at Netflix and declares a winner. (Hint: If you watch Bridgerton, you probably know the answer.)
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