With speculation swirling about Jason Kilar’s potential exit from WarnerMedia — given the conglomerate’s looming combo with Discovery — the CEO told staffers at a town hall meeting Thursday that he plans to stay with the company at least through the early part of next year.
“My plan and my focus is to remain here in my CEO role at WarnerMedia” for at least the next six months, Kilar said, according to a source who was in attendance. “I am not thinking right now about post-merger. There will be a time to consider that topic in 2022.”
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In the remarks to employees, Kilar said he expects to stay at the helm of WarnerMedia “because I believe we have unfinished business and the work of the next year can — and should — be extremely fulfilling as the world continues to see what we are capable of doing.” Kilar’s statements about staying on board at least through the end of 2021 were first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
On May 17, the day AT&T announced plans to spin off WarnerMedia and merge it with Discovery, Kilar sent a memo to WM staffers giving them a rah-rah message of staying the course and expressing gratitude: “I don’t take any days on the WarnerMedia team for granted.”
AT&T and Discovery said they expect the merger to close by mid-2022, with Discovery CEO David Zaslav set to run the new combined entity.
Kilar was not party to the deal talks between Zaslav and AT&T CEO John Stankey. After that detail emerged, Kilar — who had just joined WarnerMedia a little over a year ago, in May 2020 — was reported to be evaluating his options to exit the post.
The proposed merger would combine WarnerMedia’s assets — including HBO Max, Turner and Warner Bros. — with Discovery’s collection of domestic and international cable channels, including Discovery, TLC, Animal Planet, OWN, Food Network and HGTV.
On a call with investors last week, Zaslav praised Kilar as “a fantastic talent.” Stankey noted that Kilar was still CEO of WarnerMedia but he also added, “David’s got a lot of decisions to make on personnel.”
Stankey, speaking at an investment conference earlier this week, positioned the deal as letting investors better tap into the global direct-to-consumer opportunity, as well as freeing up AT&T to invest in 5G wireless and fiber buildouts. At the same time, Stankey gave part of HBO Max’s strong first-year growth to AT&T, saying, “I think, realistically, HBO Max would not be where it is today if not for the strength of the two combined companies,” meaning WarnerMedia and AT&T.
As of the end of March 2021, HBO Max and HBO combined had 44.2 million domestic customers, up 2.7 million from 41.5 million at the end of 2020. In the first 10 months after the launch of HBO Max, WarnerMedia has gained 11.1 million HBO/HBO Max subscribers (with the vast majority of existing HBO customers eligible to stream HBO Max as well).
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