David Zaslav Shoots Down Claims That Cost-Conscious Media Companies Are Glad Writers Are on Strike
Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav responded to the writers strike following the release of the company’s Q1 earnings report Friday, shooting down claims that some companies are “glad” that the the Writers Guild of America (WGA) is picketing instead of writing.
“We’re not glad,” Zaslav said during an interview on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Day 4 of the writers strike.
“In order to create great storytelling, we need great writers, and we need the whole industry to work together,” the WBD chief said. “And everybody deserves to be paid fairly. So our number one focus is, let’s try and get this resolved. Let’s do it in a way that that the writers feel that they’re valued, which they are, and they’re compensated fairly. And then off we go. Let’s tell great stories together.”
The WGA work stoppage began Tuesday, following the guild’s inability to ink a last-minute deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) before the deadline Monday night. Friday marks the fourth day that the WGA has been on strike, with members coming out in droves to picket in front of studio locations and offices in NYC and LA.
HBO’s “House of the Dragon,” arguably WBD’s highest-profile TV series, is currently still in production on Season 2 in the U.K. amid the writers strike in the U.S., with sources stating that all scripts were “completed.”
When asked what would ultimately bring the studios and writers back to the negotiating table to make a deal, Zaslav told CNBC, “I think a love for the business and a love for working. We all came into this business because we love storytelling, we want to entertain and when we’re at our best, we get a chance to have an impact on the culture. Almost all of us got into this business with a lot of sacrifice in order to be part of that journey. And so that’s what’s gonna bring us together.”
WBD revealed a Q1 loss of $1.069 billion Friday, which included $1.81 billion of “acquisition-related intangible assets and $95 million of pre-tax restructuring expenses.”
As part of its earnings report, the company stated it now expects its streaming business — led by the May 23 launch of Max, a combined and rebranded HBO Max and Discovery+ — to reach profitability this year, one year ahead of schedule. Though Zaslav said on “Squawk Box” that WBD thinks “streaming is going to be very profitable” for them, he could not lay out a clear position for the company regarding writers’ streaming residuals, one of the biggest sticking points in these negotiations.
“The industry is in the middle of some significant disruption,” Zaslav said. “And people are changing the way they consume content. And so it’s very difficult to figure out how does that work? What’s the right value for it? And so I think it’s fair that we’re trying to figure out. When it was just everyone consumed content on a TV set, and it was a model that existed for 50 years, it was very easy to figure out where’s the value and how do we carve it up fairly?”
Following the “Squawk Box” interview, Zaslav, along with WBD CFO Gunnar Wiedenfels and streaming chief JB Perrette, broke down the quarter in great detail on an earnings call with analysts, including details about the future of the streaming business at WBD.
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