Warner Bros Discovery Town Hall Features Oprah Winfrey And Studio Heritage – Deadline

Warner Bros Discovery CEO David Zaslav and other top execs are meeting with employees in a town hall this morning on the Warner lot in Burbank. It’s the first large-scale staff meeting since last Friday’s close of the $43 billion merger.

Attendees told Deadline the event began with Oprah Winfrey interviewing Zaslav onstage, getting him to describe how the deal came together. AT&T CEO John Stankey wanted to move quickly with spinning off the company’s entertainment assets, he explained. Plus, both WarnerMedia and Discovery were seeking scale in streaming in order to better compete with Netflix and Disney.

Winfrey’s OWN began in 2008 as a joint venture with Discovery but is now mostly controlled by Warner Bros Discovery. At the end of 2020, she sold almost her entire stake for $36 million in Discovery stock via her company, Harpo. That move gave Discovery nearly 95% of the entity (up from 73%) but Winfrey also signed on to remain a key contributor and creative overseer at OWN through 2025.

In addition to Winfrey, notable figures from Warner Bros’ history are in the audience for the town hall. One is Mark Ross, son of Warner Communications boss Steve Ross, and another is Cass Warner, grand-daughter of Harry Warner, one of the original Warner brothers who founded the studio nearly a century ago.

Before today’s event, Zaslav conducted a series of smaller meet-and-greets with workers in New York, Washington and Atlanta. Since the deal was first proposed last May, he and Discovery brass have made an effort to deepen their understanding of Warner’s businesses, though until the formal close they faced some regulatory restraints.

WarnerMedia’s spinoff from AT&T and combination with Discovery has created one of the largest companies in the media business. While Discovery controls just 29% of the new entity, it has operational control.

Many eyes are on Zaslav, not only inside the company but across the industry, as he sets about integrating the two large companies, whose combined annual revenue is more than $50 billion. He has promised Wall Street $3 billion in cost savings from the deal, which translates to a significant amount of layoffs. Apart from a series of high-level departures last week, with former WarnerMedia CEO and several of his direct reports leaving the fold, the extent and nature of the cuts is not yet clear.

Streaming, of course, will be a strategic centerpiece at Warner Bros Discovery. The company intends to make HBO Max the main vessel for acquiring customers. Discovery+, the subscription service launched in January 2021, has grown steadily but not spectacularly and will be folded into HBO Max sometime in the coming months or perhaps years. (Many technological and logistical hurdles will prevent it from being an instant process.)

Keep checking here for more updates from the town hall.

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