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David Zaslav Talks WarnerMedia Partnership at Discovery Upfront

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Discovery Inc. president and CEO David Zaslav — dressed in khakis and his trademark lightweight outerwear vest — looked very satisfied as he opened Discovery’s virtual upfront in front of a screen festooned with the networks of Discovery and WarnerMedia.

“I must say, this part of the upfront presentation was not planned,” he said with a grin. Characterizing the $43 billion partnership with WarnerMedia, hatched with AT&T CEO John Stankey, as “momentous” and “historic,” Zaslav added: “Now we get to write the next chapter together.”

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Of course, the deal — which will undergo a lengthy regulatory review before it can be consummated — has been in the making for weeks (unbeknownst to current WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar, who is now negotiating his exit).

The new company, which Zaslav will run, will create a TV, film and streaming behemoth that will include Discovery’s unscripted and international sports prowess and WarnerMedia’s prestige HBO and HBO Max, as well as sports-heavy Turner cable networks and CNN. Discovery is already home to a bevy of top-rated cable networks including flagship Discovery, HGTV, TLC, Food Network, Animal Planet and Oprah Winfrey’s OWN. The deal will create a new business that could be valued at as much as $150 billion, according to The Financial Times.

The deal and Discovery’s incursion into the so-called “broadcast week” of the annual upfront presentations, lent the proceedings a whiff of swagger. Discovery’s channels reach 173 million U.S. consumers, including 23 million who only watch Discovery on digital, according to U.S. ad sales chief John Steinlauf. The presentation, which clocked in at 90 minutes, included a commitment to produce 5,000 hours of new linear programming and “hundreds of new series” exclusive to streaming service Discovery Plus that will feature Discovery personalities including Chip and Joanna Gaines, Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis and Guy Fieri. The network also previewed Jon Stewart’s “No Responders Left Behind,” a documentary about the erstwhile “Daily Show” host’s efforts with activist John Feal and firefighter Ray Pfeifer (who died of cancer caused by the noxious debris at the World Trade Center) to secure government-funded health benefits and a compensation fund for 9/11 first responders.

“Our streaming service is built to complement linear, not cannibalize it,” vowed Steinlauf.

And Zaslav has said that the combined Discovery-WarnerMedia would spend $20 billion annually on TV and film content.

Zaslav returned at the end of the presentation to talk up Discovery’s new headquarters in Manhattan’s Flatiron district, after decades in Silver Spring, MD. “We are a company on the move,” he said.

It was an endorsement of the reopening of his hometown as a global media powerhouse after the ravages of the pandemic, and a symbolic land grab for the Brooklyn-born executive. Said Zaslav: “Never bet against New York.”