To borrow from the name of a popular Hollywood franchise, this week’s industry news came fast and furious.
No sooner did The Wall Street Journal publish a profile of Jason Kilar celebrating his one-year anniversary as the CEO of WarnerMedia than Bloomberg broke a high-octane merger story two days later that will likely spell the end of the leader’s short and controversial tenure at the entertainment company.
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The morning after the May 16 bombshell news broke that AT&T had been engaging in stealth negotiations with reality TV giant Discovery to spin off its WarnerMedia assets into a newly combined company, another press outlet dropped a scoop that Amazon was considering a deal to acquire MGM.
The sudden avalanche of these back-to-back developments sent a jolt across the entire business, leaving Wall Street, top executives at the affected companies, other industry insiders, bankers and entertainment journalists scrambling to forecast the ultimate impact on the media world writ large and who will or won’t survive the aftermath of these transformative moves.
One of the major casualties of the WarnerMedia- Discovery union is expected to be Kilar, who was pretty much blindsided by AT&T’s secretive merger talks to spin off the very entertainment assets he has presided over since this time last year. He is reportedly negotiating his exit as I write this.
All we know for certain is that Discovery CEO David Zaslav, who will run the new combined company once the regulators sign off next year, will want to install his own executive team when he has the greenlight to do so. What that portends — good or bad — for the current regime at WarnerMedia and managers of its various business divisions is very unclear.
Such uncertainty makes for an unwanted distraction and breeds fearmongering among those not knowing what their futures hold. I particularly feel for the film, television and digital executives and their staffs at Warner Bros. who, for more than a year, have had to endure wrenching changes and job losses — during a debilitating pandemic no less.
As Cynthia Littleton points out in her story this week, the venerable studio that once stood as the “citadel of Hollywood” is now “bracing for its third massive executive shake-up in as many years.”
The same could be said of another storied and once mighty fixture of the business, MGM, which has changed hands multiple times over the decades, including the three instances that former billionaire owner Kirk Kerkorian bought and sold it.
It is anyone’s guess what the entertainment and media landscape will look like a year from now. With utmost certainty, however, we can assume that it’s going to be a whole lot different.