WarnerMedia chief executive officer Jason Kilar did not waste much time addressing the elephant in the room at a WarnerMedia virtual global summit on Thursday afternoon. After an “icebreaker” about how his mother and wife are contemplating switching cellular providers, Kilar told the company’s employees that he’s committed to the work he started a little over one year ago when AT&T CEO John Stankey named Kilar to the post.
Noting that he has always tried to be “direct” and “empathetic,” he thanked his team for their hard work in continuing to build out streaming service HBO Max, and stressed that he has “unfinished business” at the company.
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“I’m not going anywhere,” he said.
His remarks at the virtual presentation sent the phones of the company’s home-bound employees buzzing, since it was in contrast to the media narrative that has taken hold since news of AT&T’s decision to spin off WarnerMedia and combine it with the assets of Discovery and be run by Discovery CEO David Zaslav.
Days after the proposed merger was revealed on May 17, The New York Times and others reported that Kilar —who was reportedly kept in the dark during the top-secret negotiations between Stankey and Zaslav — had engaged a team of lawyers to negotiate his exit.
The deal seemingly left Kilar odd man out in a game of executive musical chairs, with many assuming that Jeff Zucker, chairman, WarnerMedia News and Sports, and a good friend and golfing buddy to Zaslav, would ascend to head of WarnerMedia.
Kilar and Zucker are said to have a frosty relationship, and Zucker earlier this year told staff he “expects to move on” when his current contract comes up at the end of 2021. The WarnerMedia-Discovery announcement seemed to change Zucker’s fortunes.
Of course, Kilar may still leave once the merger is completed; it could take anywhere from a year to 18 months to complete and also must pass regulatory muster. And he noted that he will reassess post-merger. But his public statements seem to bely a quick exit foretold in many media reports.
And as one company source put it: “A lot can happen in a year.”