WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar has exited the company days ahead of its merger with Discovery, Inc. The exit of the former steward of Warner Bros., networks like HBO, TBS, TNT, and CNN, and the HBO Max streaming service, comes as a shock to exactly no one.
Kilar began negotiating his exit via a legal team last May, mere days after it was first announced that AT&T would spin off WarnerMedia in a deal with Discovery, Inc. Kilar was kept in the dark on the deal; the handwriting was on the wall.
Longtime Discovery boss David Zaslav leads the newly former Warner Bros. Discovery. The merger is expected to finalize within the next few days. As the two former standalone companies warm up to each other, the expectation is that their respective streaming services HBO Max and Discovery+ will begin their path to coming together as one.
Read Kilar’s Tuesday note to his staff here:
With the pending transaction with Discovery nearing close, now is the right time to share with each of you that I will be departing this amazing company.
There are many feelings one could have in a moment like this, but for me there are none bigger, or more lasting, than the feelings of gratitude and love that I have for this team, this company, and this mission. I’ve never been more fulfilled professionally. I’ve never been happier professionally. This team – and what we’ve built together – are the reasons for that. We’re leading the industry creatively. We’ve elevated technology, product, and design to the highest levels in the company. We’re operating as one team, proudly and successfully going direct to consumers across the globe. It has been deeply gratifying to lean into the future alongside each of you and to do so with conviction.
The joys are many, especially the walk-and-talks that I’ve had with a great many WarnerMedia team members, diving deeply into the matters at hand, whether on the storied lot in Burbank, along The High Line at Hudson Yards, in and around Techwood and CNN Center, inside our archives, across the expansive lot at Leavesden, at any of our game studio locations, or the many other locations where this team quite literally changes the world. Apparently, word has gotten around that when Jason calls for a walk-and-talk, be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes!
For those of you that know me well (or follow me on Twitter), it comes as no surprise that I adore our history and the footprint we have as a company across the globe. I’ve done my best to visit and get to know as many of you as possible and to photographically document my love for this team and this company along the way via social media. So, when my wife Jamie and I were thinking about what we could do on our own to adequately express our appreciation to each of you, we came up with the idea to create a series of artifacts featuring some of the photos I’ve taken to celebrate this team and WarnerMedia. We’re inviting each of you to visit this website and choose an image that resonates…from the iconic Warner Bros. water tower, the gleaming towers of Hudson Yards, the virtual production stage in Leavesden, and several more. An artifact featuring that image (and a note from me on the back) will be shipped to you in the coming weeks. Our hope is that this memento will bring a smile and remind you of the important contributions we’ve made to the 99-year legacy of this extraordinary company.
Leading this team has been the honor of my lifetime. My heart is so full, and I am beyond thankful to each of you. There is no better team on the planet, and I will savor every last step as I wander the lot in Burbank several more times this week, with this team on my mind, always.
Eli Joshua Adé / HBO Max
Kilar got his start at Amazon at the turn of the millennium, where he worked for nearly a decade in a variety of roles as the overall company rose to global dominance. Kilar was the founding CEO of Hulu, whose growth beyond next-day aggregator of TV content was hamstrung by the realities of doing business in Hollywood, much to Kilar’s chagrin. He ultimately left Hulu in 2013 and continued to straddle new and old Hollywood; Kilar’s online video startup Vessel sold to Verizon in 2016 and he has served on the boards of established media companies companies like Univision.
Kilar’s ascent to WarnerMedia’s corner office came just a month after the U.S. first locked down due to the Covid pandemic; AT&T announced he got the job in April 2020. That was just as the pandemic-era order was taking shape in the industry: Universal had thrown the first rocks at the 90-day theatrical window.
By the time Kilar started in July, Universal had patched things up with exhibitors, paving the way for Kilar to take an even more aggressive, streaming-centric approach — one that would quickly turn him into one of Hollywood’s most divisive executives. It was his biggest job by far. He would be tasked with overseeing the division of a sprawling conglomerate, one anchored by the town’s most talent-friendly studio, as part of WarnerMedia’s bid for continued relevancy in the streaming era. In change-averse Hollywood, critics saw the former tech executive as an unseasoned interloper.
“I absolutely respect the history of Hollywood and media, but I don’t feel obligated to cut and paste it going forward,” Kilar told the Wall Street Journal last year. “In fact, I think that would be the complete wrong strategy.”
Kilar started just two months after HBO Max launched. One of his first orders of business was dramatic restructuring, axing top HBO Max jobs (and some 2,000 others) and putting Ann Sarnoff in charge of all WarnerMedia content across theatrical, TV, and streaming. The company also prioritized producing for its own distribution avenues.
Kilar’s most notorious decision was announced in December 2020: The entirety of Warner Bros. 2021 theatrical slate would premiere in theaters and on HBO Max on the same day. In most cases, production partners were blindsided by the plan; to maintain control, Kilar employed a strategy of asking for forgiveness rather than permission.
It demonstrated that while Kilar understood streaming — the moved helped establish HBO Max as an essential, premium service and add millions of subscribers — it may have tipped the scales too far in that direction. The move drew the ire of relationship-oriented Hollywood, prompting a lawsuit from from Village Roadshow, producer of “The Matrix Resurrections,” and inspired Christopher Nolan to vocally leave his longtime Warner Bros. home in favor of Universal.
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