In what was essentially a public debut on Wednesday, leaders of the new Warner Bros. Discovery portrayed the media giant as effectively a fifth U.S. broadcast television network, with even bigger aspirations.
“Our goal is to build the most dynamic media and entertainment company in the world,” David Zaslav, the company’s CEO and president, told an audience of advertisers at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
The 6-week-old company, created out of a corporate merger, was making its first “upfront” presentation, where television and other media companies try to convince Madison Avenue representatives to purchase ads over the next year.
“I’m a little nervous,” said Zaslav, name-checking celebrities like Mike Rowe and Chip and Joanna Gaines that he spotted in the audience. “It’s a big moment for us.”
Yet in a forum known for bravado, Zaslav wasn’t shy.
He compared the moment to when Rupert Murdoch created the Fox network to compete with ABC, CBS and NBC in the late 1980s. But he said, “we would have to combine all four of the broadcast networks together to achieve the reach that we have alone.”
With CNN and Discovery, the new company has a strong worldwide presence. For television viewers and streamers in the United States, it’s a diverse and disparate collection of assets, including HGTV, the Food Network, TBS, TLC, CNN, HBO and the HBO Max and Discovery+ streaming services.
That made for some odd juxtapositions at the presentation, like the slide that lumped together upcoming events like Discovery’s “Shark Week,” Animal Planet’s “Puppy Bowl” and CNN’s coverage of the midterm election.
Jennifer Hudson, who is starting a syndicated talk show this fall for the company’s Telepictures division, did an awkward onstage sample of it with two HGTV stars, rapper Lil Jon and designer twin Jonathan Drew.
The company tried to tie it all together by saying it will offer “live events that thrill us, the headlines that define us, the real-life stories that connect us.
“There’s now one place where it all awaits us.”
Along the way, the company made some programming news. Discovery+ is working on a two-part documentary looking at the roots of the toxic divorce between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, and another that gives a behind-the-scenes look at snowboarder Shaun White’s last competition at the Winter Olympics. The service has also lured actor Robert Downey Jr. for a series where some classic cars he owns are made more eco-friendly.
HGTV next month will debut “The Great Giveback,” in which actor Melissa McCarthy and her cousin Jenna Perusich help renovate the homes of some needy families.
And HBO brought Lizzo onstage to announce the singer’s participation in a documentary about the past two years of her life. She added a colorful description of all she put into the project that left a corporate executive briefly nonplussed.
The presentation to advertisers may have been new to Warner Bros. Discovery as a company, but not to most of its components — judging by a solicitation that flashed on a video screen as highlights of the Adult Swim cartoon network were unfurled.
“The future is coming,” it read. “Join us. All it costs is money.”
Bauder reported from New York, Elber from Los Angeles.