David Zaslav, Defender of the Cable Bundle, Is Ready to Bundle Max with Other Streamers

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David Zaslav and Bob Iger at the 2022 AFI Awards
David Zaslav and Bob Iger at the 2022 AFI Awards
Michael Buckner/Variety via Getty Images

For decades, the cable-television bundle had a staunch defender in David Zaslav, the Warner Bros. Discovery president and CEO who first oversaw NBCUniversal’s portfolio before doing the same thing at Discovery. Well, we’re beyond the heyday of skinny bundles of cable channels, but Zaslav is ready to apply the same logic to streaming — and no, we’re not just talking about combining HBO Max and Discovery+ in Max, WBD’s new app that launches Tuesday. The question becomes: Are Zaslav’s competitors ready to join forces with him, or will they slowly let the technology companies do it to them?

At Thursday’s SVB MoffettNathanson conference, Zaslav cited “one of the challenges in the business right now” as consumer confusion about where to find “the content that they love.” It makes for both a bad user experience, something HBO Max knows all about, and is just plain bad business, he argued.

“Everyone is Googling ‘Where is it?’ How do I get it?'” Zaslav said at the research company’s inaugural Technology, Media & Telecom Conference. “It’s not rational, and it’s not really sustainable.”

Also not rational is to fix the issue through a further consolidation of media companies, Zaslav said — that would take too long and and come with too many regulatory hurdles. He should know: the WarnerMedia and Discovery, Inc. merger closed about a year after the first reports of negotiations, and that was considered quick. (Still, it’s a pretty convenient opinion to have about a year removed from his own mega-merger, but we digress.)

Anyway, it’s not that kind of consolidation that needs to happen here, Zaslav explained, but consolidation in “the repackaging and marketing of products together.” If the top three services in each market were put together “it would be great for consumers” and “would probably reduce churn,” he continued. Either the content owners, like a Warner Bros. Discovery, can do it in the coming years, or “it will be done to us,” Zaslav cautioned during his 50-minute keynote discussion.

Yes, Zaslav, who did not appear on stage or on screen at Warner Bros. Discovery’s Wednesday upfront, had plenty to say a day later.

(Here seems like a good enough place for this: We’re told by one Warner Bros. Discovery source that Zaslav “still believes in the cable bundle” but “is clear-eyed” about its future vs. streaming.)

“It’ll be Amazon that does it, or it’ll be Apple that does it, or it’ll be Roku that does it,” Zaslav said. “They’ve already started to do it, and it makes sense. A lot of people will go to those platforms as an easier curation of what they like.”

When Max launches on Tuesday, it will be available on Amazon Fire devices, Apple TV devices, and Roku devices. But, you know, Max will be separate from Netflix and Disney+.

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