Despite facing widespread criticism during the Hollywood strikes, Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav argued on Wednesday that he, Bob Iger and other studio executives fought hard to put an end to the labor dispute.
“I think the idea of going on strike was bad for all of us. My focus was we need to settle this strike. This is really hurting people” he said during the New York Times’ DealBook Summit. “Every day that we were on strike, that people weren’t working, was a bad day.”
Zaslav, Iger and others executives were scrutinized in the early days of the strike for their massive pay packages. He avoided the question when asked about his high compensation and how he dealt with the scrutiny from writers and actors. But Zaslav reiterated his previous comment to the Times in which he said that the WGA was “right about almost everything” — which he acknowledged held true for SAG-AFTRA as well.
“I believe what I said. When I spoke to Fran [Drescher] and Duncan [Crabtree-Ireland] before, I said, I agree with a lot of what you’re saying,” Zaslav added.
In addition to the strikes, Zaslav addressed Warner Bros. Discovery’s recent cost-cutting efforts, which have involved laying off staff and shelving content. He noted that the company is at a “very hard time that requires hard decisions, and many of them are unpopular.”
“When we took over the company, we said there are no sacred cows,” he added. “If we were going to start today, what content do we need? What content is going to help us? How many people do we need? What should HBO look like? What should Warner Brothers look like?”
While acknowledging that WBD’s first layoffs were “brutal,” he noted that “these are companies that have never really been restructured for the future.”
“So we really decided that we have to have courage, we’ve got to figure it out,” he said.
On the content side, Zaslav’s notable unpopular decisions have included the shelving of “Batgirl” last year, as well as “Coyote vs Acme” this month. The decision on the latter has since been reversed following a public outcry.
When asked about accounting, which allows WBD to take write-downs on content, Zaslav said that piece is “really a misnomer.”
“If we produce a show, a $100-million movie… We’ve spent the $100 million and if we don’t release it. It’s gone. We don’t have any real benefit from it,” he said. “The question is, should we take certain of these movies and open them in the theater and spend another $30 or $40 million to promote them? And Warner Brothers team and HBO made a number of decisions. They were hard. But when I look at the health of our company today, we needed to make those decisions. And it took real courage.”
Zaslav was also asked about the ousters of former CNN CEOs Chris Licht and Jeff Zucker.
He referred to Licht as a “good friend,” adding that he had “a lot of great days” and that the pair “had a lot of fun and a lot of battles together.”
“Chris is going to have a lot of great chapters and hopefully some of those with us at Warner Bros. He’s very talented,” Zaslav said.
When asked if his relationship with Zucker had fractured, Zaslav disagreed.
“I wouldn’t say it fractured,” he said. “In the end, I believe that you want to foster friendships, but you have to make the decision that’s the best for the business. And if you have a best friend and they have a great script, if the Warner Bros. team doesn’t think that’s the best storytelling vehicle that we should go with, you have to put the friendships aside.”
Licht has been replaced by ex-New York Times and BBC executive Mark Thompson, who Zaslav called an “exceptional” and “ground-up” leader.
“He’s won the hearts and minds of the team,” Zaslav said.
Zaslav reaffirmed that CNN would focus on being a journalistic organization rather than an advocacy network.
“It’s really a strategic choice, nothing good or bad,” he said. “For CNN, the choice was, this should be — it is — the greatest journalistic organization in the world.”