Warner Bros. Discovery is an American media conglomerate created in April 2022 with the merger of WarnerMedia and Discovery Inc. It is headed by former Discovery CEO David Zaslav.
HistoryWhile the company is named after Warner Bros. Pictures, their flagship subsidiary, the roots of it as a whole stretch back to the 1940s, and the New York-area parking garage concern Kinney Parking. Over the next couple of decades, Kinney grew from just parking to having holdings in a variety of businesses, including funeral homes, cleaning companies, construction firms and car rental. The head of the company was forward-thinking chairman Steve Ross, who had married into the founding family of the funeral parlor side.
In the late 1960s, he began expanding into the entertainment industry, buying talent agency Ashley-Famous, two different comic book companies (National Periodical Publications and EC Publications), and film camera firm Panavision. Kinney's next logical step was to buy a film studio, choosing the faltering Warner Bros.-Seven Arts (as it was known then; the Seven Arts part was dropped almost immediately after the Kinney deal), which also brought Warner (Bros.) Records and Atlantic Records into the fold. Ashley-Famous had to be sold, due to antitrust laws prohibiting a film studio and talent agency being in common ownership. Soon after, Ross then installed Ashley-Famous head Ted Ashley as head of WB. Under their leadership, WB was revitalized, entering the 1970s in a big way.
After a financial scandal involving the parking garages, Ross chose to spinoff those and other non-media businesses as the National Kinney Corporation in 1972, and Kinney National became Warner Communications, adopting the famous "Big W" logo designed by Saul Bass company-wide, including at Warner Bros. itself. The 1970s saw further growth and expansion into all sorts of new areas; Ross saw potential when many others didn't. He invested into cable television, and helped create QUBE, a unique interactive cable experiment in Columbus, OH; American Express joined Warner later on to help finance QUBE's expansion. QUBE wound up spawning three major networks owned by Warner-Amex: Nickelodeon, MTV and The Movie Channel. Ultimately, QUBE's interactive components were too expensive, and combined with data privacy concerns, led to Amex selling out their stake in the venture; all three channels wound up being sold to Viacom (which had already partnered with WASEC for their pay-TV network Showtime to be part of a joint venture with TMC) to make up the deficit. Another venture that started off well was Warner's acquisition of Atari. Purchasing the small company in 1976, Warner reaped the benefits as Atari led the first big video game boom.... and then got burned by The Great Video Game Crash of 1983. Warner would sell Atari in 1984.
1989 saw the major turning point of the company's history, as Time, Inc. — owner of namesake Time and many other magazines, as well as the country's leading pay-TV service, HBO — sought to merge with Warner. Paramount Communications attempted to block the merger by various means, but ultimately failed, leading to the formation of Time Warner in 1990. This united the company's respective cable operations into one company, Time Warner Cable, which continued to use the original "combined eye/ear" logo long after the rest of the company abandoned it. Ross, however, died in 1992, and subsequent leadership, who mostly came from the Time side via HBO, attempted to discourage the synergy Ross had sought from the merger, and instead promote internal competition; this strategy often led to different segments of the company not working together well, if at all. One of these moves was to hive off the entertainment assets into a holding company, Time Warner Entertainment Company, L.P., with telecom company US West. Other expansions during this period came via the acquisition of Six Flags theme parks, which began usage of Warner properties, in 1993 (though Six Flags was sold in 1998, they continue to license Warner and DC properties for rides and attractions). A notable failure was their attempt at an internet portal, Pathfinder; Pathfinder was not well-liked by the other divisions, and its lack of focus and inability to cooperate with other divisions led to a series of embarrassing blunders and the portal's shuttering in 1999.
1996 saw the company grow even more, as it merged with the Turner Broadcasting System, acquiring a boatload of basic cable channels, two different film companies (New Line Cinema and Castle Rock Entertainment), and the rights to both the pre-1948 Warner Bros. library (which had been sold off years prior) and the pre-1986 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer library. note This, however, ended up leading to further infighting amongst the company's various divisions.
At the dawn of the New Millennium, Time Warner announced it was to merge with yet another company, the phenomenally-successful America Online (AOL). In practice, despite being supposedly a "merger of equals", AOL was to dominate the new AOL Time Warner. The deal proved to be a disaster, including little of the hoped-for synergy, primarily because of the aforementioned issues with the different divisions, exacerbated by AOL's presence. AOL's rapid fall from grace as people switched from dial-up to broadband resulted in the company bleeding money, recording up to a loss of $99 billion in 2002, which to this day is the largest annual loss ever suffered by a corporation. Another open wound was Jamie Kellner's disastrous reign as head of the Turner Broadcasting division; he had been imported from The WB Television Network (which was reassigned to Turner for this period). Kellner was responsible for the closure and sale of Turner's World Championship Wrestling, due to that unit's continued financial losses (in part, due to the company's own internal issues), despite WCW Monday Nitro being TNT's highest-rated show by then. For his legacy in the animated part of the company see here. Between all of this, AOL was quickly removed from the name, the Time Warner Entertainment venture ended with Comcast (who inherited US West's stake through mergers) selling their stake back to TW, and a slim-down period began to placate activist investors who took advantage of their stock price drop.
The Warner Music Group was spun-off in 2004 to help pay down the debt load from the merger, while Warner Books was sold to Hachette Book Group two years later. Activist investor Carl Ichan subsequently took a sizable stake in Time Warner that year and laid out a plan to split the corporation into four separate companies, with Time Warner solely focusing on movies and television while the cable operations, publishing business and AOL would become independent entities. Although Ichan's plans seemingly failed at first, Time Warner's continued decline in stock price and revenue forced their hand. 2009 saw the spinoff of Time Warner Cable (which continued to use the name under a licensing agreement until 2016, when it was acquired by Charter Communications) and AOL itself (the latter being acquired by Verizon in 2015). By the early 2010s, Time Inc. itself was gone, thanks to the magazine industry declining, leaving one-half of the company's name as an Artifact Title and giving Ichan the last laugh. Not long after Time Inc. was spun off, Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox offered an unsolicited bid to acquire Time Warner; 21st Century Fox already owned the 20th Century Fox movie and TV studios, the FX Networks, the Fox network and most notably CNN competitor Fox News Channel. Time Warner rejected the offer, but it was the opening salvo of what would be major pushes to sell the conglomerate (21st Century Fox itself was eventually consumed by Disney, while Murdoch kept the broadcasting, sports and news operations).
In 2016, amid speculation of another activist investor takeover and rumored push to spin-off HBO to better compete with Netflix, it was announced that telecommunications company AT&T was going to purchase Time Warner. The deal was held up until 2018 as a result of the Department of Justice suing to block the merger on antitrust grounds.note Ultimately, a court ruled in AT&T's favor and the purchase was allowed to proceed. Upon the deal closing, Time Warner was renamed to WarnerMedia.
AT&T began to reorganize the newly-rebranded company in an effort to prevent the infighting that had plagued it and to increase synergy. For example, Toonami, Adult Swim's anime and action programming block, has been collaborating with anime streaming service Crunchyroll on acquisitions and co-productions. A new flagship streaming service, HBO Max, was launched in 2020 to offer content from all of WarnerMedia's brands directly to consumers. As the Warner acquisition left them as one of the most indebted companies in the country, AT&T became committed to selling off many non-core assets from its own portfolio. note
In August 2020, WarnerMedia announced a second restructuring in an effort to devote its resources to streaming. Under this structure, the studios and networks were fully consolidated into one entity, while HBO Max became a separate operating unit. The restructuring came as a result of an executive shakeup that stemmed from AT&T's chief executive officer retiring.
Unfortunately, the merger never paid off the way AT&T hoped. Only a year into the merger, reports of culture clashes and Creative Differences between AT&T and Time Warner executives began making their way through the media trades, with allegations that AT&T execs had little knowledge on how the media business worked and the importance of talent relations.note Some of the clashes led to high-profile departures of long-time executives, including HBO chairman Richard Plepler and Warner Bros. TV group head of business Craig Hunegs, both of whom respectively jumped ship to Apple and Disney. One noteworthy incident involved AT&T's John Stankey having a dispute with Plepler over how to better compete with Netflix, a meeting that directly led to Plepler's exit. Investors were also highly skeptical of AT&T's management of the merger, with activist investor Paul Singer suggesting AT&T's acquisition of WarnerMedia, along with that of DirecTV (which was facing a gargantuan decline in subscriber numbers thanks to the rise of streaming services and cheaper internet-based alternatives), contributed to AT&T's stock price under-performance and called for their divestitures. Warner Bros. also faced continued problems as much of their 2019 slate under-performed at the box office, with only It: Chapter Two (whose overall gross was far still lower than its predecessor) and Joker becoming major hits... neither of which were released during the summer season. On top of that, WB saw its chairman Kevin Tsujihara ousted after he was caught up in a Casting Couch scandal.
Although HBO Max launched with great fanfare in May 2020, reaction was largely mixed, with criticism aimed at the service's high price (which was primarily to placate pay TV and third-party providers of HBO who offered the service alongside the linear channels), confusing rollout due to preexisting services HBO Go and HBO Now (the former was shut down entirely and the latter became the base for HBO Max, though that wasn't made clear until just weeks before launch), failure to reach a deal with HBO providers Amazon and Roku at launch (they eventually buried the hatchet later in the year), the lack of an international rollout the year of launch, the lack of 4K support which wouldn't come until December, and production of many of the service's originals being delayed by the COVID-19 Pandemic. As a result, the service only managed to net 12.6 active million subscribers by Decembernote , a far cry from the 86.8 million subscribers fellow Netflix rival Disney+ had amassed a year after launch (though to be fair, that number for Disney+ is worldwide, HBO Max hadn't launched worldwide in 2020, and it also took Disney+ four months to launch beyond the five starting countries).
The tensions came to a head in November 2020 when WB, citing the pandemicnote , announced that it would release its entire 2021 theatrical slate on HBO Max at the same time it hit theaters. Although investors and some audiences applauded the move, many within Hollywood, including filmmakers, actors, talent agencies, labor unions, and theater owners, protested the plan and threatened legal action. The backlash was so great that WB ended up paying up to $200 million to settle with disgruntled producers and actors as a form of compensation. Some exhibitors' fears were assuaged when Godzilla vs. Kong became the first pandemic-era big-budget hit in spite of the simultaneous digital release; in addition, a deal was reached with theaters to ensure the program did not extend beyond 2021, with new films playing exclusively in theaters for at least 45 days as of 2022.
In the end, it didn't matter. With AT&T continuing to buckle from its high debt load, and HBO Max growth remaining sluggish, the writing was on the wall. In May 2021, AT&T announced that it would merge WarnerMedia with Discovery Inc., the parent of Discovery Channel, TLC and Animal Planet among other channels, and spin-off the combined company as an entirely separate, publicly-traded conglomerate to both companies' shareholders, allowing AT&T to fully reinvest in their mobile and internet businesses. The deal, which essentially undoes the AT&T buyout, is worth $43 billion, which, considering AT&T spent $85 billion on WarnerMedia alone, amounts to a $42 billion write-down on AT&T's partnote . The spin-out came just months after AT&T announced a similar spin-off of DirecTV, though in that case AT&T themselves will retain majority corporate ownership of that division. It was later announced the new entity would be named Warner Bros. Discovery following the merger's completion. The merger was completed on April 8. 2022; in the leadup, CNN ran into issues regarding now-former head Jeff Zucker, who clashed with Jason Kilar over the latter's reorganization and was eventually ousted in early 2022 amid both accusations of a longtime relationship with one of his employees, as well as a clash with Discovery stockholder and cable industry veteran John Malone and the underperformance of Zucker's streaming service CNN+ (which wound up being shuttered after only a month).
The company is currently being headed by Discovery CEO David Zaslav, who has demonstrated that, unlike AT&T's executives, he's more than willing to cut layers of management, work with Hollywood veterans and acknowledge the history of Warner Bros. itself, as well as bringing in Chris Licht, former producer of CBS This Morning and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, to head up CNN following Zucker's ousting, in hopes of putting it back on track to providing actual journalism rather than opinion programming.
Assets owned by Warner Bros. Discovery include:
Studios & Networks
Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
- Warner Bros. (main topic)
- Warner Bros. Pictures Group
- Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment (under Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)
- DC Entertainment (under Warner Bros. Global Brands and Franchises)
- Warner Bros. Global Kids, Young Adults and Classics
- The CW (50% stake; the rest owned by Paramount Global)
- Turner Entertainment Co. (holding company for pre-1948 WB material and pre-1986 MGM material, among others)
- Wang Film Productions (joint venture with Brilliant Pictures Group and the Government of Taiwan)
Home Box Office, Inc.
Turner Entertainment Networks
- Animal Planet
- Discovery Channel
- Discovery Family (60% stake)
- Investigation Discovery
- Lionsgate (3% stake)
- Television Food Network (69% stake)
News and Sports
- CNN International
- CNN Airport Network
- Turner Sports
- Bleacher Report
- AT&T SportsNet RSNs
- NBA TV (operations only)
Sales and Distribution
- Otter Media
- HBO Max
- Warner Max (absorbed into Warner Bros. in October 2020)