Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav Talks “Weak” Advertising Market, DC Plans and HBO Losses

James Gunn and Peter Safran are "coming close to the end" of finishing their roadmap for DC Studios.

In a wide-ranging conversation hosted by RBC Tuesday morning, Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav painted a pessimistic picture of the macroeconomic environment but expressed optimism about his company’s plans to get to the other side of it.

And nowhere was Zaslav more pessimistic than with the advertising market, which he described as “very weak” in the discussion with RBC’s Kutgun Maral.

“I think he saw it maybe a little bit more with us because we don’t have local and we didn’t have sport,” Zaslav said, noting that now that the NBA and NHL are back, and with March Madness on the horizon, its ad business should improve.

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Still, Zaslav notes, the ad market is “weaker than it was during COVID. And that could change quite quickly. You know, right now. This is a pretty big miss of the whole Christmas season.”

Zaslav also touched upon other parts of the company’s business lines.

At DC, which is now being led by filmmaker James Gunn and producer Peter Safran, Zaslav said that the pair are “coming close to the end” of finishing a bible for DC (an entertainment term for a document roadmap that outlines key characters and plot points).

“I think over the next few years, you’re going to see a lot of growth and opportunity around DC; there’s not going to be four Batmans,” Zaslav said. “And so part of our strategy is, drive the hell out of DC, which James and Peter are going to do. I think they’ve thrilled the fans. I think they’re going to thrill you over a period of time.”

Elsewhere, Zaslav disclosed that WarnerMedia’s HBO business lost $3 billion last year after spending almost $7 billion on content. So one of the things they are doing is taking a close look at what people are watching on HBO Max and deciding where to spend going forward.

“We are right-sizing HBO Max — more content that people love, more original content,” Zaslav said. In other words, removing content that people aren’t watching, and adding more shows and movies that they believe people will watch and enjoy: “Our whole library went on HBO Max, and we weren’t selling any of it, but it was all on there. Now, all that could have worked, but we looked at it and we said, ‘Most of this is not being watched,’ or, ‘We don’t think anybody is subscribing because of this. We can sell it non-exclusively to somebody else. Look at this huge library that we have.'”

Zaslav also reaffirmed that the company will launch a free ad-supported streaming service to compete with Pluto and Tubi, and suggested that it would use the Warner Bros. brand name in some way.

And with regard to sports, he added that the company is interested in renewing its NBA deal, but it will be “very disciplined” in doing so.

“We don’t have to have the NBA. And if we do a new deal with the NBA, it’s gonna look a lot different,” Zaslav said. “I’d like to do a deal with the NBA, but it has to be a deal for the future. It can’t be a deal for the past.”