David Zaslav Vows Warner Bros. Discovery ‘Will Not Overspend to Drive Subscriber Growth’

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In the wake of big content spender Netflix’s shocking Q1 subscriber loss, David Zaslav made a point to say Warner Bros. Discovery “will not overspend to drive subscriber growth” during Discovery’s first-quarter earnings call Tuesday.

“As you’ve heard me say, we are not trying to win the direct-to-consumer spending war,” the WBD CEO said, instead promising that the newly combined WarnerMedia-Discovery company would “invest in scale smartly.”

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Warner Bros. Discovery is now the home of both HBO Max and Discovery+, with the former having scored 76.8 million total subs combined with HBO at the end of Q1, and Discovery reaching 24 million streaming subs by that same point, per its newly released Q1 results. HBO Max and Discovery+ will be combined as one streaming platform under Warner Bros. Discovery, though timing on that integration has yet to be determined.

The company’s combined 100 million streaming subscribers gives them “true optionality over time to drive our strategic decision-making,” Zaslav said. “Everything should be monetized,” Zaslav said, adding that “each and every decision will be made through the lens of analyzing asset value,” with a focus on “maximizing shareholder value, not just subs.”

Zaslav also raised the provocative suggestion that Warner Bros. Discovery might go back to selling content around the world, especially in markets where HBO Max won’t be available for some time.

Warner Bros. Discovery is looking to “rectify some of the drivers behind the business-case deviations” across the new company, CFO Gunnar Wiedenfels said, calling last week’s announcement the company would be shutting down the recently launched CNN+ “exhibit A.”

Per Wiedenfels, WarnerMedia assets profit projection for 2022 is $500 million lower than Discovery expected, and Discovery’s better-than-expected results help offset that for WBD. “2022 will undoubtedly be a messy year,” Wiedenfels said.

Zaslav and Wiedenfels’ remarks during the WBD’s Q1 presentation — which was focused specifically on Discovery’s first-quarter earnings results, as AT&T still had control over WarnerMedia through the end of March — come amid Netflix’s major stock hit on its reveal it lost 200,000 subs in Q1, falling to 221.64 million subs overall, and very weak Q2 outlook that it will lose another 2 million subscribers.

In response, Netflix chiefs Reed Hastings and Ted Sarandos said the company would focus on cracking down on password-sharing among subscribers to force new signups of existing customers, and finally explore launching a cheaper ad-supported option, though it still intends on spending its previous estimate of $18 billion on content this year,

During Tuesday’s earnings call, Zaslav boasted that Discovery was “out there early saying, ‘ad-light looks very compelling,'” and was “not going to have to write a check to get the best content because we have the factory.”

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