CNN and a large cluster of cable television and streaming properties that helped put Atlanta on the national media map will be folded into a new company. The new enterprise will be created by the merger of the WarnerMedia brands of AT&T and the Discovery networks, which include Food Network, Oprah Winfrey Network, HGTV and Animal Planet.
The Atlanta media brands, comprising the Cartoon Network, TNT, TBS and truTV, among others, have been a part of AT&T Inc., which also encompasses Warner Bros. motion picture studio and the streaming service HBO Max.
The new company will have the U.S. sports broadcasting rights for Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the NCAA March Madness national collegiate basketball playoffs.
The new company, which doesn’t have a name yet and will be separate from AT&T, awaits regulatory approval from the federal government. It will be led by the Discovery CEO David Zaslav, a veteran of 35 years in broadcast management whose grandparents were Holocaust survivors from Eastern Europe.
Two years ago, Zaslav partnered with film director Steven Spielberg, documentary producer Alex Gibney and the USC Shoah Foundation to produce the Discovery series, “Why We Hate,” which explores the roots and consequences of the primal emotion.
“My grandmother was on the street cleaning it with a toothbrush and was kicked. … They said, ‘We have to get out of here,’” Zaslav told Israel-based I24 News in 2019. “This idea of ‘Never Again,’ I lived with it from all four of my grandparents – what they had and what was taken away from them.”
He told the international news channel that he “loves Israel” and what the nation has accomplished over its 73-year history.
“It’s a shining light of democracy,” he continued. “It’s highly imperfect; there’s a lot you can say, but they’re continuing to strive toward the best democracy, and it’s a great country.”
The network executive has also been chair of a campaign by the Shoah Foundation’s Auschwitz: The Past Is Present committee, a global communications initiative developed by Discovery Education to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. He also serves on the Shoah Foundation’s executive committee and has been honored by the UJA-Federation of New York for his leadership in the entertainment and communications industries.
The new communication giant he will head is expected to control nearly 200,000 hours of programming and control more than a hundred brands. According to financial projections, the expected revenue for 2023 is estimated to be $52 billion. London’s Financial Times estimates the new company could be worth as much as $150 billion.
“It is super-exciting to combine such historic brands, world-class journalism, and iconic franchises under one roof and unlock so much value and opportunity,” Zaslav told financial analysts on a conference call. “With a library of cherished IP, dynamite management teams, and global expertise in every market in the world, we believe everyone wins.”
The new deal brings Zaslav together with a longtime friend and New York neighbor Jeff Zucker, the 56-year-old president of CNN Worldwide and the chairman of WarnerMedia news and sports properties. Prior to the announcement of the new company, Zucker had earlier said he would be leaving CNN at the end of the year.
Now with a close friend at the head of the combined operation there is speculation that he may stay.
The merger is said to be in response to the stepped-up competition between large media companies such as Netflix, Amazon, Comcast and ABC/Disney for the future of entertainment.
Since 2018, when AT&T first acquired the WarnerMedia properties that will be merged in this latest deal, the competition for subscribers of streaming media services has only intensified.
The launch of AT&T’s HBO Max and the competing service of Disney+ last year just underscored the cut-throat nature of the evolving competition.
In announcing the new corporate entity, Zaslav estimated he would be spending at least $20 billion on new programming, which is generally thought to be greater than its competitors.
“We will be one company, one culture, one mission,” Zaslav said, “with great stories and great content that entertains people in every country around the world.