WarnerMedia staff fear layoffs in Discovery merger

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WarnerMedia staffers are bracing for another bloodbath ahead of the completion of its merger with Discovery.

Some staffers at WarnerMedia are already preparing to be booted after Discovery announced a slew of senior-level departures this week. The nine departures included the exit of WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar, who was expected to leave the company, along Warner Bros. chief Ann Sarnoff and HBO Max general manager Andy Forssell.

Sources told The Post that David Zaslav, new CEO of the combined company — dubbed Warner Bros. Discovery — is expected to take a scalpel to the business in the coming months after he takes the reins on Monday.

Sources said Zaslav is expected to get into the weeds and be very “hands-on” as CEO. This includes finding “cost synergies” of at least $3 billion in 2023, Discovery said in recent months.

Discovery CEO David Zaslav is expected to be very hands-on when he helms the new company, Warner Bros. Discovery.
Getty Images

Discovery did not comment.

Already, Zaslav’s grip on the company is tightening as the new CEO has more direct reports.

On Thursday, Discovery rolled out a new structure, with 10 execs reporting to Zaslav, including HBO and HBO Max chief content officer Casey Bloys; Warner Bros. chairman Toby Emmerich; CNN chairman and CEO Chris Licht; and JB Perrette, CEO and president of Warner Bros. Discovery global streaming and interactive entertainment.

This week’s changes have roiled the ranks at WarnerMedia, according to The Wrap.

“I’ve never seen such paranoia. It’s bad, it’s crazy,” a Warner Bros. source told the publication. “These people are palpably nervous.”

The source said pandemic isolation has only made things worse: “These people have been working at home for two years. They can’t even talk to each other [in person].”

WarnerMedia employees, who have been left in the dark about Discovery’s plans, said their new corporate parent, which operates Food Network, Animal Planet and TLC, has a reputation for being “cheap.”

WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar.
WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar was among a slew of departures at the company ahead of the Discovery merger.
Getty Images

“If you are in ‘Harry Potter’ or games [development departments], I would imagine you are fine, but everyone else is worried,” one WarnerMedia employee said.

Although they haven’t been specific, Discovery has earmarked streaming as a possible area for cost savings, as the merged company would have two streaming offerings in Discovery+ and HBO Max. Discovery has said it plans to combine the two services, which would make some back-office jobs duplicative, for example.

The deal, which is expected to close as early as Friday, marks the second time in the last five years that WarnerMedia, home to HBO, CNN and Warner Bros., has had a new owner. WarnerMedia, then known as Time Warner, was acquired by AT&T in 2018 and it has since endured massive layoffs and restructuring.

Meanwhile, Hollywood insiders told The Post they hoped Zaslav has the “stomach” to spend on big-budget films and TV shows to fuel company growth while in cost-cutting mode. They said Zaslav may have sticker shock, as the budgets are much bigger in film than on reality TV, which makes up the bulk of Discovery’s business.

Discovery and WarnerMedia unveil name merged firm: Warner Bros. Discovery logo
The Discovery-WarnerMedia deal is expected to close Friday. The combined company will begin doing business as Warner Bros. Discovery next week.

“He’s a very smart guy,” a studio exec said, shrugging off that concern. “I think he’s up to the task.”

Media watchers who took to social media had a more skeptical take on Discovery’s strategy.

“The bloodbath continues. The WarnerMedia exodus is going to be brutal as Discovery takes over. I feel for the many layoffs at the non-executive level that are coming,” one user wrote on Twitter.

Another user added: “I do hope the new leadership is considering what they are removing and who will handle that work to the same level. I mean, getting rid of the streaming chief [Forssell] for the hit platform and putting someone from the Discovery+ team in there wouldn’t exactly make me confident!”


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