While being honored at the Banff Film Festival in Canada in early June, Bela Bajaria, Netflix’s head of global television, surprised some with what she didn’t say. Despite the recent turmoil at the streaming giant — including a loss of subscribers, hundreds of job cuts and a precipitous stock drop — she said Netflix was charging ahead, with no significant plans to change its programming efforts.
“For me, looking at it, the business works,” Ms. Bajaria said from the stage. “We are not doing some radical shift in our business. We’re not merging. We’re not having a big transitional phase.”
Two weeks later, after Netflix had laid off another 300 people, Reed Hastings, the company’s co-chief executive, doubled down on Ms. Bajaria’s message, reassuring the remaining employees that the future would, in fact, be bright and that in the next 18 months the company would hire 1,500 people.
“Spiderhead” and the series “God’s Favorite Idiot” have been critically derided.) A producer who works with Netflix said the word “quality” was being bandied about much more often in development meetings.
Emily Feingold, a Netflix spokeswoman, disputed the idea that focusing on a show’s quality was somehow a change in strategy, referring to such disparate content as “Squid Game,” the reality television show “Too Hot to Handle,” and movies like “Red Notice” and “The Adam Project.”
“Consumers have very different, diverse tastes,” Ms. Feingold said. “It’s why we invest in such a broad range of stories, always aspiring to make the best version of that title irrespective of the genre. Variety and quality are key to our ongoing success.”
The producer Todd Black said that the process for getting a project into development at Netflix had slowed down but that otherwise it was business as usual.
“They are looking at everything, which I get,” said Mr. Black, who last worked with Netflix when he produced “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” in 2020. “They are trying to course correct. We have to be patient and let them do that. But they are open for business. They are buying things.”
Indeed, the company still intends to spend some $17 billion on content this year. It paid $50 million last month for a thriller starring Emily Blunt and directed by David Yates (“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”). And it plans to make “The Electric State,” a $200 million film directed by Joe and Anthony Russo (“Avengers: Endgame” and “The Gray Man”) and starring Millie Bobby Brown and Chris Pratt, after Universal Pictures balked at the price tag. The company also just announced a development deal for a television adaptation of “East of Eden” starring Florence Pugh.
On Tuesday, Whip Media, a research firm, said Netflix had fallen from second to fourth place in the firm’s annual streaming customer satisfaction survey, behind HBO Max, Disney+ and Hulu.
The most significant change coming for Netflix is its advertising tier, which, as it has told employees, it wants to roll out by the end of the year. Netflix’s foray into advertising stoked excitement among media buyers at the industry’s annual conference in Cannes last week.
“It was pretty intense,” said Dave Morgan, who is the chief executive of Simulmedia, a company that works with advertisers, and who attended the conference. “It was one of the top two or three issues everyone was talking about.”
Mr. Hastings said Netflix would work with an outside company to help get its nascent advertising business underway. The Wall Street Journal reported that Google and Comcast were the front-runners to be that partner. Still, advertising executives believe that building out the business at Netflix could take time, and that the company might be able to introduce the new tier only in a handful of international markets by the end of the year.
It could take even longer for advertising to become a significant revenue stream for the company.
“You have a lot of media companies duking it out, and it’ll take quite a while to compete with those companies,” Mr. Morgan said. “I could imagine it will take three or four years to even be a top 10 video ad company.”
In an analyst report this month, Wells Fargo threw cold water on the notion that subscriber growth for an ad-supported tier would be quick. Wells Fargo analysts cautioned that the ad model would offer “modest” financial gains in the next two years because of a natural cannibalization from the higher-paying subscriber base. They predicted that by the end of 2025 nearly a third of the subscriber base would pay for the cheaper ad-supported model, roughly 100 million users.
Bank of America went further last week. “Ad-tiering could serve as a way for consumers across all income brackets to extend their streaming budget by trading down to subscribe to an additional service, benefiting Netflix’s competitors much more than Netflix itself,” it said in an analyst letter.
Netflix has also reached out to the studios that it buys TV shows and movies from in recent weeks, seeking permission to show advertising on licensed content. In negotiations with Paramount Global, Netflix has mentioned paying money on top of its existing licensing fee rather than cutting the company in on revenue from future ad sales, said a person familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss active talks.
This mirrors the approach Netflix took with studios when it introduced its “download for you” feature, which allowed users to save movies and TV shows to their devices to watch offline. When Netflix added that feature, executives at the streaming service agreed to pay studios a fee in addition to their licensing agreement.
In the end, though, Netflix’s success will most likely come down to how well it spends its $17 billion content budget.
“Netflix, dollar for dollar, needs to do better, and that falls on Ted Sarandos and his whole team,” Mr. Greenfield said, referring to the company’s co-chief executive. “They haven’t done a good enough job. Yet, they are still, by far, the leader.”
Executives at Discovery, wary of antitrust rules, were constrained from advising their counterparts at CNN until the merger was done. CNN+ had lost its champion when Mr. Zucker left in February because of an undisclosed romantic relationship with a colleague. But Jason Kilar, the WarnerMedia chief executive, forged ahead anyway, launching the streaming platform on March 29 to the frustration of the Discovery leadership.
Understand the Turmoil at CNN
It quickly became apparent that Mr. Zaslav had a very different view on digital strategy.
On the morning of April 11, the first business day of Discovery’s ownership — and 90 minutes before its WBD stock even went live on Nasdaq — JB Perrette, Discovery’s global head of streaming, convened a meeting with CNN executives.
Mr. Perrette had a message: Marketing of CNN+ was to be suspended, pending a formal review of the business, three people familiar with the conversation said.
Executives at Warner Bros. Discovery wanted to merge its other subscription platforms — Discovery+ and HBO Max — into one giant streaming service. They were not convinced that a niche product like CNN+ could be viable on its own.
And there was the matter of the debt. Discovery’s merger left the conglomerate owing about $55 billion, which executives are now under pressure to repay. CNN had been planning to spend more than $1 billion on CNN+ over four years, two people familiar with the matter said, even renting out an additional floor of its pricey Manhattan skyscraper.
Andrew Morse, CNN’s chief digital officer and a key architect of CNN+, who became the biggest internal champion of the service, countered that subscription-based online news could be successful, citing The New York Times as an example. Executives at CNN+ said they had secured 150,000 paying subscribers and were on a pace to hit first-year subscription goals.
Executives at Discovery were not impressed: At any given time, fewer than 10,000 people were watching the service, said two people familiar with the numbers, who were not authorized to speak publicly. (On Thursday, Mr. Morse said he was leaving the network entirely.)
Many entertainment executives, tired of playing catch-up to a Silicon Valley interloper, have been waiting for the comeuppance of Netflix. But this may not have been the way they hoped it would happen.
Netflix said this week that it lost more subscribers than it signed up in the first three months of the year, reversing a decade of steady growth. The company’s shares nose-dived 35 percent on Wednesday while it shed about $50 billion in market capitalization. The pain was shared across the industry as the stock of companies like Disney, Warner Bros. Discovery and Paramount also declined.
Netflix blamed a number of issues, ranging from increased competition to its decision to drop all its subscribers in Russia because of the war in Ukraine. To entertainment executives and analysts, the moment felt decisive in the so-called streaming wars. After years of trying, they may see a chance to gain ground on their giant rival.
But Netflix’s stunning reversal also raised a number of questions that will have to be answered in the coming months as more traditional media companies race toward subscription businesses largely modeled after what Netflix created. Is there such a thing as too many streaming options? How many people are really willing to pay for them? And could this business be less profitable and far less reliable than what the industry has been doing for years?
advertising-supported tier in the next year or two. Netflix also said it would crack down on password sharing, a practice that in the past it said it had no problem with.
“We’ve been thinking about that for a couple of years, but when we were growing fast it wasn’t a high priority to work on,” Mr. Hastings said. “And now, we’re working superhard on it.”
Netflix has no advertising sales experience, while rivals like Disney, Warner Bros. Discovery and Paramount have vast advertising infrastructure. And the password crackdown led some analysts to wonder whether Netflix has already reached market saturation in the United States.
Mr. Hastings tried to reassure everyone that Netflix had been through tough times before and that it would solve its problems. He said the company was now “superfocused” on “getting back into our investors’ good graces.”
“I am sure you aren’t surprised that it came with a fair amount of anxiety, disappointment and concern relative to the changes it would trigger,” he wrote. “All considered, I remain confident we have set the right path.”
The creation of Warner Bros. Discovery could prompt changes among existing media companies, forcing smaller companies like Paramount to find a way to get bigger.
“There’s Disney, HBO Max, Netflix, Amazon and Apple — that’s five,” said Michael Nathanson, a media analyst, pointing to the leading streaming services. “You don’t want to be in position six, seven or eight. At some point, they’ll say, ‘We have to find a dance partner.’”
The biggest question will be what happens to HBO Max and Discovery+, the merging companies’ streaming services. Initially, the two could be sold as a bundle, but over time they will be brought together into one giant streaming service, Mr. Zaslav told staff on Friday.
HBO and HBO Max, which consists of new television series and movies, as well as an impressive lineup from the Warner Bros. library, have more than 70 million subscribers; Discovery+ has more than 20 million.
Even brought together, that pales next to Netflix, which has more than 220 million paying subscribers, most of them outside the United States. HBO Max has only recently expanded into foreign territory, though Discovery has built a robust international business.
“A new giant is born when they prove they have international scale,” Mr. Nathanson said of Warner Bros. Discovery. “I don’t think Discovery content on HBO Max in the U.S. is a needle mover. But because international is such uncontested territory, they can have more impact outside the U.S.”
The pandemic accelerated the disruption. Traditional studios like Paramount, Universal, Sony, Warner Bros. and Disney rerouted dozens of theatrical films to streaming services or released them simultaneously in theaters and online. For the second year in a row, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, citing the coronavirus threat, allowed films to skip a theatrical release entirely and still be eligible for Oscars. The academy had previously required at least a perfunctory theatrical release of at least a week in Los Angeles.
This is about more than Hollywood egotism. The worry is that, as streaming services proliferate — more than 300 now operate in the United States, according to the consulting firm Parks Associates — theaters could become exclusively the land of superheroes, sequels and remakes. The venerable Warner Bros. has slashed annual theatrical output by almost half and built a direct-to-streaming film assembly line. Last week, Amazon boosted its Prime Video service by acquiring Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the old-line studio behind “Licorice Pizza,” which is nominated for three Academy Awards, including best picture.
In a year when Hollywood largely failed to jump-start theatrical moviegoing, streaming services solidified their hold on viewers. Global ticket sales totaled $21.3 billion in 2021, down from $42.3 billion in 2019, according to the Motion Picture Association. (Theaters were closed for much of 2020.) Some theater companies have gone out of business, others have merged; the world’s biggest theater chain, AMC Entertainment, racked up $6 billion in losses over the past two years and its stock has dropped 66 percent since June. At the same time, the number of subscriptions to online video services around the world grew to 1.3 billion, up from 864 million in 2019, the group said.
One film that struggled at the box office was Mr. Spielberg’s “West Side Story,” which received an exclusive run in theaters (per his wishes) of about three months. It collected about $75 million worldwide (against a production budget of $100 million and global marketing costs of roughly $50 million). “West Side Story” is now available on not one but two streaming services, Disney+ and HBO Max, where it has almost assuredly been viewed more widely than in theaters. But the film was never able to recover — among Oscar voters — from being branded a box office misfire. It received seven nominations, and is poised to win in one category, for Ariana DeBose as best supporting actress.
Mr. Spielberg’s also-ran presence in the current Oscar race makes the ascendance of streaming contenders all the more striking: a lion in the fight to keep the Academy Awards focused on theatrical films is pushed aside.
However unlikely, it is possible that “West Side Story” could come from behind and win the best picture trophy. So could Kenneth Branagh’s “Belfast,” for that matter. Such an outcome would be a bit like 2019, when academy voters, turned off by an over-the-top campaign by Netflix to push “Roma” to best picture glory, instead gave the prize to “Green Book,” a traditional film from Universal Pictures.
“The Suicide Squad” should have been a big hit for Warner Bros. last month. It had superheroes, a marquee director (James Gunn), a huge production budget ($185 million) and received terrific reviews. But instead of delivering a box office ka-pow, it went ker-thud: Ticket sales total $156 million (split roughly 50-50 with theaters), compared with $747 million for the first “Suicide Squad” in 2016.
Of course, the latest one had to battle a pandemic. And it was also made available free on HBO Max in lock step with its theatrical debut. On that platform, it was a relative success — at least according to HBO Max, which heralded “The Suicide Squad” as the service’s second-most-viewed movie debut of the year.
But it offered no numbers.
“Paw Patrol: The Movie” (Paramount) was released simultaneously in theaters and on Paramount+ late last month. It took in $13 million over its first weekend, enough for second place behind “Free Guy,” a holdover. But the actual demand for “Paw Patrol” was shrouded. Regal Cinemas, the second-largest multiplex chain in the United States behind AMC Entertainment, refused to play the animated adventure because of its streaming availability. Paramount+ said on Aug. 25 that the movie “ranked as one of the service’s most-watched originals.”
But it offered no numbers.
In contrast, Disney-Marvel released “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” exclusively in theaters on Friday. Disney’s chief executive had called the old-fashioned release an “experiment.” Would the coronavirus keep people at home?
In surveys in late August of American moviegoers by the National Research Group, a film industry consultant, about 67 percent of respondents said they felt comfortable (“very or somewhat”) sitting in a theater. Disney has cited coronavirus concerns for making films like “Jungle Cruise,” “Cruella” and “Black Widow” available in homes on Disney+ at the same time as in theaters (even though Hollywood has suspected that the real reason — or at least an equally important one — has been helping Disney+).
The crystal-clear result: Audiences flocked to “Shang-Chi,” which was on pace to collect $83.5 million from 4,300 theaters in the United States and Canada from Friday through Monday, according to Comscore, which compiles box office data. Overseas, the well-reviewed movie, notable for being Marvel’s first Asian-led superhero spectacle, generated an additional $56.2 million. “Shang-Chi” cost roughly $200 million to make.
LOS ANGELES — In February 2020, Universal Pictures used the Super Bowl to light a marketing match under “F9,” the latest installment in the “Fast and Furious” franchise. With any luck, the studio hoped, the movie would roar into theaters a few months later and take in more than $1 billion worldwide, just as a predecessor, “The Fate of the Furious,” did in 2017.
But the pandemic had other plans. Some rival studios hemmed and hawed over their release schedule, but Universal shocked Hollywood in early March 2020 by delaying “F9” for an entire year. “It was a very unpopular decision,” Donna Langley, chairwoman of the Universal Filmed Entertainment Group, said recently in a phone interview. “A lot of people really did not agree with me.”
It was a $350 million-plus decision, between production and marketing costs, and Ms. Langley, like everyone at that stage of the pandemic, was operating in the dark. “It really was a gut call,” she said.
Avengers: Endgame” in 2019.
screen patriotic films with titles like “The Sacrifice” and “The Red Sun” at that time.
As Hollywood has contemplated how best to rev up moviegoing now that theaters are beginning to operate with some normalcy again, there has been a lot of talk about “the right movie at the right time.” It was not Christopher Nolan’s cerebral “Tenant,” which was released in September by Warner Bros. An old-fashioned monster mash-up, “Godzilla vs. Kong,” drew big crowds last month, but results were depressed because it was simultaneously available on HBO Max.
Could “F9” be the one? It will receive an exclusive run in theaters and features action sequences designed specifically for big screens. One of the film’s cars has an actual rocket engine attached to its roof.
“It feels like a big, beginning-of-summer, school’s-out celebration,” Ms. Langley said of the sequel. It finds Vin Diesel’s marble-mouthed Dom Toretto facing his younger brother Jakob (John Cena), an assassin working with the villainous Cipher (Charlize Theron). Michelle Rodriguez returns as the brooding Letty. Tyrese Gibson, Helen Mirren and Ludacris also star.
LOS ANGELES — For 28 years, ever since “Super Mario Bros.” arrived in cinemas with the tagline “This Ain’t No Game,” Hollywood has been trying and mostly failing — epically, famously — to turn hit video games into hit movies. For every “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” (2001), which turned Angelina Jolie into an A-list action star, there has been a nonsensical “Max Payne” (2008), an abominable “Prince of Persia” (2010) and a wince-inducing “Warcraft” (2016).
If video games are the comic books of our time, why can’t Hollywood figure out how to mine them accordingly?
It may finally be happening, powered in part by the proliferation of streaming services and their need for intellectual property to exploit. “The need for established, globally appealing I.P. has naturally led to gaming,” Matthew Ball, a venture investor and the former head of strategy for Amazon Studios, wrote last year in an essay titled “7 Reasons Why Gaming I.P. Is Finally Taking Off in Film/TV.”
Sony Pictures Entertainment and its PlayStation-powered sibling, Sony Interactive, are finally working together to turn PlayStation games into mass-appeal movies and television shows. There are 10 game adaptations in the Sony Pictures pipeline, a big leap from practically none in 2018. They include “Uncharted,” a $120 million adventure based on a 14-year-old PlayStation property (more than 40 million copies sold). “Uncharted” stars Tom Holland, the reigning Spider-Man, as Nathan Drake, the treasure hunter at the center of the game franchise. It is scheduled for release in theaters on Feb. 18.
post-apocalyptic game of the same title. Pedro Pascal, “The Mandalorian” himself, is the star, and Craig Mazin, who created the Emmy-winning mini-series “Chernobyl,” is the showrunner. Executive producers include Carolyn Strauss, one of the forces behind “Game of Thrones,” and Neil Druckmann, who led the creation of the Last of Us game.
Sony games like Twisted Metal and Ghost of Tsushima are also getting the TV and film treatment. (Contrary to speculation, one that is not, at least not anytime soon, according to a Sony spokesman: God of War.)
In the past, Sony Pictures and Sony Interactive operated as fiefs, with creative control — it’s mine; no, it’s mine — impeding adaptation efforts. When he took over as Sony’s chief executive in 2018, Kenichiro Yoshida demanded cooperation. The ultimate goal is to make better use of Sony’s online PlayStation Network to bring Sony movies, shows and music directly to consumers. PlayStation Network, introduced in 2006, has more than 114 million monthly active users.
“I have witnessed a radical shift in the nature of cooperation between different parts of the company,” said Sanford Panitch, Sony’s movie president.
Halo,” a series based on the Xbox franchise about a war between humans and an alliance of aliens (more than 80 million copies sold), will arrive on the Paramount+ streaming service early next year; Steven Spielberg is an executive producer. Lionsgate is adapting the Borderlands games (roughly 60 million sold) into a science fiction film starring Cate Blanchett, Kevin Hart and Jamie Lee Curtis.
Buoyed by its success with “The Witcher,” a fantasy series adapted from games and novels, Netflix has shows based on the “Assassin’s Creed,” “Resident Evil,” “Splinter Cell” and “Cuphead” games on the way. Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, the duo behind HBO’s “Westworld,” are developing a science-fiction show for Amazon that is based on the Fallout video game franchise.
And Nintendo and Illumination Entertainment, the Universal Pictures studio responsible for the “Despicable Me” franchise, have an animated Mario movie headed to theaters next year — another new collaboration between a game publisher and a film company.
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Still, Hollywood’s game adaptation track record is terrible. Why should the coming projects be any different?
For a start, the games themselves have evolved, becoming more intricate and cinematic. “Games have stories that are so much more developed and advanced than they used to be,” Mr. Panitch said.
first major game adaptation in three decades to receive a “fresh” designation on Rotten Tomatoes, the review-aggregation site. Since then, two more adaptations, “Sonic the Hedgehog” (Paramount) and “The Angry Birds Movie 2” (Sony) have been critical and commercial successes.
“Quality has definitely been improving,” said Geoff Keighley, creator of the Game Awards, an Oscars-like ceremony for the industry.
The most recent game-to-film entry, “Mortal Kombat” (Warner Bros.), received mixed reviews but has taken in $41.2 million in the United States since its release last month, a surprisingly large total considering it was released simultaneously on HBO Max and theaters were still operating with strict coronavirus safety protocols.
Mr. Panitch acknowledged that “video game movies have a checkered history.” But he added, “Failure is the mother of invention.”
Game adaptations, for instance, have often faltered by trying to rigidly replicate the action and story lines that fans know and love. That approach invites comparison, and movies (even with sophisticated visual effects) almost always fail to measure up. At the same time, such “fan service” turns off nongamers, resulting in films that don’t connect with any particular audience.
“It’s not just about adapting the story,” said Michael Jonathan Smith, who is leading Sony’s effort to turn Twisted Metal, a 1995 vehicular combat game, into a television series. “It’s about adapting how you feel when you play the game. It has to be about characters you care about. And then you can slide in the Easter eggs and story points that get fans absolutely pumped.”
“Uncharted” is a prequel that, for the first time, creates origin stories for the characters in the game. With any luck, such storytelling will satisfy fans by giving them something new — while also inviting nongamers, who may otherwise worry about not knowing what is going on, to buy tickets. (The producers of “Uncharted” include Charles Roven, who is known for the “Dark Knight” trilogy.)
“It’s a question of balance,” said Asad Qizilbash, a senior Sony Interactive executive who also runs PlayStation Productions, an entity started in 2019 and based on Sony’s movie lot in Culver City, Calif.
Unlike in the past, when Sony Pictures and Sony Interactive pledged to work together and ultimately did not, the current collaboration “has weight because there is a win for everyone,” Mr. Qizilbash added. “We have three objectives. Grow audience size for games. Bring product to Sony Pictures. Showcase collaboration.”
The stakes are high. A cinematic flop could hurt the game franchise.
“It’s risky,” Mr. Qizilbash allowed. “But I think we can do it.”
Streaming has become fiercely competitive, with Disney+ coming on strong and HBO Max, Apple TV+ and Paramount+ determined to make inroads. That has pushed the original streaming disrupters — Netflix and Amazon Prime Video — to lean harder on broad-appeal movies to keep growing, particularly overseas.
The 58-year-old James Bond franchise is a Hollywood crown jewel that has generated tens of billions of dollars in ticket sales, home entertainment revenue, video games and marketing partnerships. But 007 has been both an enticement and a deterrent to prospective MGM bidders.
That is because MGM owns only 50 percent of the spy franchise. The balance is held by Barbara Broccoli and her brother, Michael G. Wilson. Through their company, Eon, which stands for Everything or Nothing, the siblings also have ironclad creative control, approving every line of dialogue, casting decision, stunt sequence, TV ad, poster and billboard. Bond has enormous untapped value, with television offshoots as one potential bonanza. But Ms. Broccoli and Mr. Wilson, worried about adulterating the brand, have blocked spinoff efforts in the past: Bond belongs on big screens, not small ones.
“If we get the wrong partners, there are liable to be conflicts,” Mr. Wilson said in a 2015 interview.
“No Time to Die,” the 25th installment in the Bond series, cost about $250 million to make and is scheduled for pandemic-delayed release in theaters on Oct. 8. (The previous film, “Spectre,” took in about $900 million worldwide in 2015.) The role of James Bond is expected to be recast after “No Time to Die,” as Daniel Craig leaves the role after 15 years.
Amazon’s entertainment strategy has evolved as streaming services have proliferated. Indie films like “Manchester by the Sea” and unconventional shows like “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and “Transparent” gave Amazon a foothold in Hollywood; domination will require a steady supply of mainstream hits.
The problem: Amazon Studios has limited bandwidth, most of which is tied up with television series — including a coming “Lord of the Rings” adaptation that is believed to be the most expensive show ever made, with a one-season budget of $465 million. To stock its shelves with big movies, Amazon has been turning to outside suppliers. It paid $125 million for the rights to “Coming 2 America” and $80 million for “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.” In July, Amazon will release “The Tomorrow War,” a science-fiction spectacle it bought for $200 million.
Mr. Kilar, 50, fashioned himself as a disrupter inclined to break with the status quo in the pursuit of innovation. He became the chief executive of WarnerMedia in April 2020. He previously had started a video streaming company called Vessel and had managed Hulu, where he gained a reputation for thwarting the desires of the entrenched media executives overseeing the company.
HBO Max made a lackluster debut just two months after his arrival at WarnerMedia. By August, Mr. Kilar dismissed Bob Greenblatt and Kevin Reilly, two longtime television executives who were in charge of the streaming service’s programming. Mr. Kilar also laid off some 1,000 employees.
Those inside the company credit Mr. Kilar with two important decisions that have better positioned the company in the current media climate. He oriented all the divisions around HBO Max. He also hammered on the importance of making HBO Max a global streaming service, accelerating its rollout. HBO Max is set to expand into Latin America and the Caribbean next month. The European launch is scheduled for later this year.
But now the television veterans are in control.
Mr. Zaslav has run Discovery since 2007. He started his media career in 1989 at NBC, ultimately helping to create cable networks like CNBC and MSNBC and expanding USA and Bravo around the world. Known for celebrity-strewn parties at his East Hampton, N.Y., estate, Mr. Zaslav has long been one of the highest-paid chief executives in media. Last year, his compensation totaled $37.7 million. In 2018, when he signed a new contract, he received more than $100 million in Discovery stock.
Richard Gelfond, the chief executive of Imax, predicted in a CNBC interview that Mr. Zaslav would bring a “diplomatic soft touch” to WarnerMedia’s shifting movie releasing strategy. “He’s been an innovator, but he knows how to do it within the confines of the existing system,” Mr. Gelfond said.
Pulling strings in the background, per his style, will be Mr. Malone.
Nicknamed the “cable cowboy,” in part because his base of operation is in Colorado, Mr. Malone, 80, is the consummate deal maker. Mr. Zaslav in Monday’s call described him as “a teacher, and a best friend and really a father to me.” He has a reputation for putting together complex transactions that limit his tax exposure. He began amassing his fortune in 1973 when he took over Tele-Communications Inc., an almost-bankrupt cable company that he grew and then sold to AT&T in 1998 for $32 billion. A subsidiary, Liberty Media, was spun off into its own entity with Mr. Malone at the helm.
Liberty holds significant stakes in a variety of entertainment companies, including Discovery, the Atlanta Braves and SiriusXM. The company purchased Formula One racing in 2016 for $4.4 billion. And in 2017, Discovery purchased Scripps Network Interactive for $11.9 billion, which added HGTV, Travel Channel and Food Network to its media arsenal.
In 2019, after selling his shares of Lionsgate, Mr. Malone increased his ownership of Discovery, purchasing $75 million of additional shares for a total 23 percent stake.