The Big Question: Can David Zaslav Lead On "A Horns Of Dilemma" Probably not.
Uninspiring first quarterly earnings say no. But, come on, he's leading the world's second-largest content studio
Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav demonstrated on Thursday that he’s stuck on the horns of a dilemma that is the fate of a contemporary entertainment mogul: He wants to satisfy Wall Street and be beloved in Hollywood.
Can he be both?
After an uninspiring first earnings report that missed Wall Street analysts’ expectations by nearly $2 billion and caused the stock to drop as much as 14% after market close, Zaslav explained that he’s focused on long-term quality rather than short-term gain.
“We think that we could build a long-term, much stronger growth business out of DC,” Zaslav said during the earnings call. “And as part of that, we’re going to focus on quality.”
This came a day after the studio killed a $90 million “Batgirl” movie at Zaslav’s behest, which the studio declared not good enough to be released.
“You look at Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, these are brands that are known everywhere in the world,” said Zaslav to media analysts, referring to the DC universe of films. “And the ability to drive those all over the world with great story is a big opportunity for us. We have done a reset. We’ve restructured the business. We’re going to focus where there will be a team with a 10-year plan focusing just on DC.”
If only it were that simple.
Killing “Batgirl” infuriated Tinseltown’s actors and directors, but is a brilliant tax write-off for investors. Collapsing HBO Max and combining it with Discovery+ saves cash, yet layoffs sever the studio’s ability to discover the next hitmakers. And a decade-long plan Zaslav laid out to “elevate” the DC brand with surefire hits to earn the studio money only extends the uncertainty that has plagued the brand for the preceding decade.
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Zaslav can be a hero to Wall Street and a villain to Hollywood or the reverse, with each faction on opposite sides of Zaslav’s pledge to cut $3 billion in expenses at the studio.