Discovery Chief David Zaslav: No ‘Pushback’ to WarnerMedia Transaction From Washington

·4-min read

Discovery CEO David Zaslav has big ambition to build up the Warner Bros. Discovery venture to reach some 200 million streaming subscribers around the world.

But first, he has to close the $43 billion WarnerMedia spinoff transaction with AT&T that surprised in the industry in May. On Discovery’s second-quarter earnings call Tuesday, Zaslav said progress on getting regulatory approvals for the deal seem to be moving forward without much friction. He noted that he made the rounds in Washington, D.C. last week and felt no obvious friction.

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“Right now it feels to us on every level, we’re seeing green lights, we’re not seeing yellow or red lights,” Zaslav told investors Tuesday. “There’s broad support for this transaction. We haven’t heard any pushback.”

During the 70-minute call with analysts, Zaslav reiterated his expectation that the deal will close by the middle of next year. He sees more consolidation ahead for the industry as the largest players in the global streaming marketplace hunt for content and IP.

“The toughest thing to do is to put together a great library — a menu of IP,” Zaslav said. “I believe in the next couple of years, more and more people are going to look to raise their hand. We’re going to see more consolidation, more IP and libraries being sold.”

Zaslav also gave a big endorsement to the movie business, which has been under pressure since the start of the pandemic. “The motion picture business is not going away,” he said, calling it “the top of the patina” for the creative community.

The combined Warner Bros. Discovery will also have the advantage of focusing only on creating content unlike other conglomerates, including the one that is about to sell WarnerMedia.

“We’re not in the phone business or the retail business. That singular focus (on content) will drive a great culture with people that care about content and love content,” he said.

Discovery’s Q2 results indicated strong momentum in the U.S. and a growing number of international markets for the Discovery Plus streaming platform that launched in January. Discovery noted during the call that half of Discovery Plus’ subscribers in the U.S. are from households that do not already carry cable TV service, indicating that the streamer is allowing Discovery to reach consumers who would otherwise not have access to any Discovery programming.

Zaslav, Discovery CFO Gunnar Wiedenfels and international chief JB Perrette were pressed about the performance of the Olympics on Discovery’s Euro Sport linear and streaming platform. Euro Sport doubled its total subscriber gains compared to the 2018 Pyongyang Winter Games. Wiedenfels said the rights pact deal that Discovery cut with the International Olympic Committee in 2015 “will break even or generate slightly positive cash flow over the life of the deal.” Discovery’s Olympic rights deal, set in 2015, extends through the Paris summer games in 2024.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced a one-year delay for the Tokyo 2020 Summer Games. Zaslav asserted that there are advantages for Euro Sport to having the 2022 Beijing Winter Games start in just seven months. “We don’t have a two-year lag. We think we can do better in terms of keeping subs and gaining subs,” he said.

Among other highlights from the call:

** Discovery Plus to date has attracted 800 advertisers — twice as many as they’d predicted at this stage.

** Discovery Plus will roll out in Brazil, Canada and the Philippines by year’s end. Spain, Italy and the Netherlands will launch in the fall in a partnership with Vodafone.

** The peak of Discovery’s investment in Discovery Plus will come this year.

** Perrette warned Wall Street analysts to pay attention to the political dynamic in Poland, where Discovery is fighting the upsurge in nationalism to renew the broadcast license for a TVN24, a news channel that it owns. “We think it would be very, very economically irrational for the government to try to pass any law to change our position,” Perrette said. “It will make the environment way less attractive for investment, not just media abut any investment.” He noted that Discovery has received support from the U.S. government and the European Union.

** Zaslav let loose on Nielsen, the TV ratings provider, which has struggled mightily to keep up with the audience measurement challenges of the on-demand streaming age. Numerous outlets have battled with Nielsen over the quality of ratings reports in recent months. Zaslav didn’t mince words.

“It’s massively disappointing that Nielsen can’t get its act together,” Zaslav said. “We have lost money, everyone’s lost money. You’re dealing with a very antiquated delivery system. Recently, they’ve just been wrong…We’re competing with the likes of Google and Facebook, they have the best data and the cleanest data. I don’t have a lot of hope for Nielsen. We’ll have to work our way out of it from a technology perspective and leave them in the dust.”

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