Warner Bros. Discovery’s CEO David Zaslav seems to be trying to squash rumors that he wants to sell the company to the likes of Comcast. According to a report from Deadline, he told employees that “we are not for sale, absolutely, not for sale,” during a Zoom call on Wednesday attended by staff from all over the company.
While he reportedly didn’t address any specific rumors, a recent report from The Hollywood Reporter seems to be the likely target of his comments. Earlier this month, the outlet suggested that “top industry execs” were “convinced” that Warner Bros. was on the brink of merging with Comcast, owners of NBCUniversal and the Peacock streaming service (and, disclosure, an investor in Vox Media, The Verge’s parent company). One was even already mourning the loss of another major studio after Disney bought 21st Century Fox, according to the report.
It’s easy to understand why there are rumors that the company might be looking for a buy-out. As The Hollywood Reporter notes, its search for someone to lead its 10-year DC plan hasn’t been particularly fruitful, it has a staggering amount of debt, and there have been layoffs, with talk of more being on the way.
Then, there’s the baffling-from-the-outside decisions to cancel a finished Batgirl movie and yank content from its flagship streaming service, HBO Max. John Oliver, known for taking shots at whatever company is in charge of HBO, even recently joked about how he got the sense that Warner Bros. Discovery was “burning down my network for the insurance money.”
In other words, it’s been a rough few months since the mega-merger that created the company completed. But as my colleague Alex Cranz points out in an excellent post, Zaslav’s goal isn’t for Warner Bros. Discovery to win the streaming wars with whatever service that results from the merging of HBO Max and Discovery Plus. Instead, he wants to make as much profit of as little investment as possible; however that has to be done. It’s understandable that people thought the most logical way to make a quick buck would be packaging up a bunch of services and IP into a sort of turnkey purchase for some other media corporation, but that assumes that Zaslav is playing the same game as everyone else. And at this point, it’s not entirely clear that he is.
Of course, it’s always possible that the statement is some sort of 4D chess move to solicit big offers, but that seems unlikely to me. According to Deadline, he told workers that “we have everything we need to be successful to be the biggest entertainment media company in the world,” and the company is well on its way to achieving its $3 billion cost-cutting goal. Sure, things might look bad for the company’s customers, but why sell just as you’re getting your business right where you want it?