David Zaslav Says Hollywood Must Make “Tougher, Faster” Decisions to Avoid “Generational Disruption”

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Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav says his company is now “in a position to really attack for growth” over the next year, with its finances stabilizing and the entertainment industry moving forward after the Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA strikes.

But he added that the “generational disruption” that is impacting the industry “requires more aggressive, tougher, faster, decisions.”

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Zaslav made the comments at the New York Times Dealbook Summit in New York Wednesday morning, in an interview with Andrew Ross Sorkin.

The moment “requires very hard decisions, and many of them are unpopular,” Zaslav added, noting the decision to cut film and TV projects, some of which were already completed. “It’s a very scary time, but its also an exciting time because of what’s possible. We were the first ones through. We needed to get healthy and needed to build a real business around this company.”

In the discussion, held in front of Jazz at Lincoln Center’s enormous glass wall overlooking Columbus Circle, Zaslav also discussed his move to Los Angeles, where he met with seemingly everyone in Hollywood in a bid to learn about the movie business and the scripted TV business.

“In the end, I think I got smarter. It was also helpful in building our creative team,” Zaslav said, specifically calling out the Warner Bros. film studio and HBO. “Now I have leaders and I can step back, but it was very important for me to get out there.”

“So I am supporting [HBO and Max chief] Casey Bloys and [Warner Bros. TV chief] Channing Dungey, my job is to coach and support them,” he added.

But he also talked about CNN, and the firing of Chris Licht, who happened to be sitting just a few dozen feet from Zaslav in the room.

“Great guy, talented man, Chris is a good friend,” Zaslav said. “There were a lot of great days, there were a lot of tough days, Chris is going to have a lot of great chapters, and hopefully some of those will be with Warner Bros.”

“You know who your friends are, and you are also friendly with lots of people, but you can’t mix the two,” Zaslav added when asked about his relationship with Licht’s predecessor Jeff Zucker.

As for CNN under new leader Mark Thompson, Zaslav said “he’s there in the morning, he’s on the 9 oclock call, he’s in the control room,” and that CNN is a “legacy asset” for the company.

As for his the strikes, Zaslav stood by his comments that the writers were “right about almost everything.” Zaslav said that the industry is going through a period of “uncertainty” and that he told SAG president Fran Drescher and chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland that “I agree with a lot of what you are saying.”

That being said, “I think the idea of going on strike was bad for all of us,” he added. “My focus was on, we need to settle the strike, every day that we were on strike and people weren’t working was a bad day for us.”

Whereas before “we knew what the model for broadcast and cable… We are in this new world now,” and the companies are still figuring out how to make it work. “What is the value of Succession, or House of the Dragon?”

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