Warner Bros. Discovery CEO lays off a quarter of its TV division staff

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Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav “seems much more focused on maximizing profitability in the short term because he's got all that debt from the merger,” says Matt Belloni. Photo by Shutterstock.

Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav has laid off dozens of employees this week from its Warner Bros. Television, a more profitable and prolific arm of the company. This is Zaslav’s ongoing effort to try to cut $3 billion in spending from debt generated during the conglomerate’s merger. Matt Belloni discusses what this means with Lucas Shaw, from the Bloomberg entertainment news.

How will Warner Bros. move forward?

Lucas: [Warner Bros. seems] to be moving through the organization methodically trying to find different ways to save. So they announced cuts in HBO programming earlier this year. Now, they’ve moved on. There were cuts in advertising, [and] after that they're looking at Warner Bros. TV. 

They're clearly just going division by division of Warner media, and sucking out a certain amount of cost, firing people, either where they thought there [were] already too many employees or where they saw some duplication with businesses that they already have.

Matt: The layoffs here were pretty steep, and I think that is owing to the fact that Discovery is a television-focus company, so presumably, a lot of the back-end functions and business affairs and marketing and all these things – they now have duplicative employees. 

Consolidation of its various animation groups

Matt: But even beyond that, they did some consolidation of the various animation groups, and I think that was pretty controversial in the animation community - that group is apparently getting smaller, and they've really focused on this mid-to lower-level employees. 

Does this weaken Warner Bros. as a television studio? 

Matt: [Warner Bros. Television] has been such a juggernaut over the years, everything from “Big Bang Theory,” to all the CW shows, to “West Wing” and “ER.”

Lucas: The real question is, “What does David Zaslav want Warner Bros. Television and his media assets to be?” 

Animation has been one of the strengths of the company. You have Cartoon Network and Adult Swim within it. You have kind of the legacy of Looney Tunes and kind of historic Warner Bros. Animation to Hanna-Barbera. It feels like they're really cutting back and scaling back their plans in animation. 

What about Warner Bros. productions?

Lucas: I can't imagine that they're going to do the same on the TV side. If anything, I imagined that they'll do more selling to others. One of the great debates we've seen in Hollywood over the last few years is, “Do you want your TV studio to just make shows for your streaming service?” Which is what Disney has done. Or, “Do you want your TV studio to sell across the industry?” Which for a long time was kind of common practice. Warner Bros. was the most prolific because it wasn't aligned with the broadcast network, and so it's sold to all these other places. 

I have to imagine that Zaslav still wants that to happen, but maybe he's looking at the landscape and saying, “But do we need to produce 80 or 100 shows? Maybe we'll produce 60.”

Matt: That's been a big change under his leadership. The previous regime wanted all the output to go to HBO Max at any cost and Zaslav seems much more focused on maximizing profitability in the short term because he's got all that debt from the merger to take care of. So they're going to I agree they're going to start selling more aggressively outside the studio.



Joshua Farnham