Discovery CEO David Zaslav Commits to CNN After WarnerMedia Merger, Vows to ‘Lean Into’ News

Zaslav vows company will be “a world leader in news”

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Discovery CEO David Zazlav on Monday committed to the future of CNN once his company completes a merger with AT&T’s WarnerMedia.

“Not only are we going to keep it,” Zaslav said in a Monday press conference with AT&T CEO John Stankey, but the new company will “lean into news.” He noted that his company already has a substantial news presence in Europe, which will be combined with CNN to create “a world leader in news.”

Earlier in the call, CNN’s chief media correspondent Brian Stelter asked about the fate of his employer, too, and was told by Zaslav — who will helm the new operation once the merger is completed in mid-2022 — that CNN’s independence will be honored and the brand will be given “the greatest editorial integrity.”

Zaslav also added that the new mega-company is committed to expanding CNN’s streaming offerings since streaming is at the heart of the new company’s content distribution plans.

The forthright commitment to CNN offered a marked contrast to AT&T’s more muted discussion of CNN’s place in the company after AT&T announced plans to acquire WarnerMedia in October 2016. Then-candidate Donald Trump publicly opposed the deal, citing his antipathy toward CNN, and his Justice Department later sued to block it — with then-AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson calling the network “the elephant in the room” in the administration’s opposition. The deal won approval and was ultimately completed in June 2018.

AT&T announced Monday that it was spinning off WarnerMedia into an independent company that will merge with Discovery Inc. and be run with Discovery CEO David Zaslav.

The all-stock deal will create an entertainment juggernaut that seeks to rival Netflix and Disney, and puts the likes of Warner Bros., CNN, Turner and Discovery’s stable of nonfiction networks under one roof — as well as two competing streaming services, Discovery+ and HBO Max. It also combines WarnerMedia’s U.S. sports rights like the NBA, MLB and March Madness with Discovery international sports giant Eurosport.

Under the terms of the agreement, AT&T will receive $43 billion (a figure subject to adjustment) in a combination of cash, debt securities and WarnerMedia’s retention of certain debt, and AT&T’s shareholders will receive stock representing 71% of the new company. Discovery shareholders will own 29% of the new company. The boards of directors at both companies have approved the merger.


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