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Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav offered a look at his vision for CNN going forward, saying the goal is to “show both sides of every issue,” which includes bringing more Republicans on air.
Speaking at an investor conference Thursday, Zaslav said leadership has been making adjustments to change the view that it is a left-leaning network, in an appeal that he says includes bringing in more advertisers, as well as Republican guests, noting, “they’re not going to get one more vote on Fox News.”
“We need to show both sides of every issue,” Zaslav said.
“[Chris] Licht is working really hard. All the leadership at CNN is working hard. And Republicans are back on the air. The Republicans weren’t on the air,” he continued.
These comments came after CNN drew flak for holding a town hall last week with former President Donald Trump, who reiterated falsehoods about the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and a federal abortion ban, among other topics.
Zaslav covered a wide range of topics at the investor conference, touching on the future of the streaming landscape, as well as the trajectory of the company so far. The executive says he expects greater consolidation within the streaming space, but suggested it would not necessarily come from mergers due to the lengthy timeline and regulatory risks involved, but rather from the packaging and marketing of products together.
“For me, it seems very clear that if we were to package this great product that we have with others, if you were to wake up tomorrow and in each market the number one, two or three products, if we were marketed with two or three, for specific price, it would be great for consumers, it would probably reduce churn,” Zaslav said.
Zaslav did not offer more specifics on how exactly this might happen, but said, “If we don’t do it to ourselves, I think it’ll be done to us.”
The executive said he believes Warner Bros. Discovery has now found its “wheel bearings” after the merger of the two companies, particularly as the company’s direct-to-streaming business turned a profit. He has now organized three regularly scheduled meetings a week, with one in which all the creative leaders from the WBD businesses meet, another in which his direct reports meet, and a third discussing the business operational structure and where the company is at on free cash flow and EBITDA.
The motion pictures business is still lagging the others in terms of profitability, but Zaslav said he believes it’s “making the turn now,” highlighting upcoming films such as the Barbie movie and The Flash and the pivot away from making movies for streaming.
“This whole strategy of putting motion pictures on a streaming service. One, it didn’t work, it didn’t reduce churn, it didn’t increase subscribers, but it also reduced the quality of the product,” Zaslav said.
The executive, who has been famous for his cost-cutting measures at the company, including shutting down films such as Batgirl and writing off other content, also highlighted the content at his company, such as HBO’s Succession and White Lotus, as one of WBD’s biggest assets within the streaming wars. The most watched brands will remain exclusive to the company, with Zaslav noting that most people watch three or four series, but the company will still “sell a lot of stuff.”
As far as how he balances cost-cutting versus the need to keep consumers on the platform, Zaslav said the company had been overspending and now has found a way to avoid that, while maintaining the quality.
“We’re not going to say no to anything that we think could be great. And when we level-set that, we’re actually spending a lot less,” he said.
Borrowing a weather metaphor, the executive noted that many factors within the media and entertainment landscape have made the past year difficult, including the advertising market (though Zaslav said WBD had seen “sequential improvement” coming from this week’s upfront presentation), as well as the number of streaming platforms. However, he said the company is now in a good position.
“And so you have the rain from the bad advertising market, you got the wind coming in, because we all have to build platforms and it’s not rational, and all of a sudden you get in a little bit of sleet on the side, it’s inclement weather, but we’re now on the porch,” Zaslav said.
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