Discovery CEO David Zaslav will run the combined business, according to Monday’s announcement.
“I think we fit together like a glove,” Zaslav said at a virtual press conference.
On one level, the tie-up is a logical way to better compete with Netflix and Disney, the two top streaming players.
A spin-off will help AT&T prioritize its broadband business and pay down its huge debt load. “AT&T would receive $43 billion (subject to adjustment) in a combination of cash, debt securities, and WarnerMedia’s retention of certain debt,” Monday’s announcement said. Zaslav said Monday the new company will start with $55 billion in debt.
AT&T’s shareholders would get the majority of the shares in the combined company, at 71%, while Discovery’s shareholders would get 29%.
Shares of AT&T were up more than 3% pre-market, while shares of Discovery were up 16%.
Prominent Wall Street analysts had been predicting, and in some cases encouraging, this type of move. Earlier this year AT&T struck a deal to carve out its satellite business DirecTV at a significant loss from the 2015 purchase price.
And another telecom giant, Verizon, threw in the towel on its content efforts as well, agreeing to sell Yahoo and AOL for $5 billion.
Of course, the media world looks very different today than it did just a few years ago. Investors are more laser-focused on streaming with each passing year.
“We are now in a world where relevance and future success will be tied to greater scale and growth globally,” AT&T CEO John Stankey said in a memo to WarnerMedia staffers. “To be one of the best global media companies requires not only broad and deep creative assets, but an investor base and access to capital to make it happen. The decision to combine WarnerMedia with Discovery is rooted in this conclusion.”
When CNN’s chief business correspondent Christine Romans asked how many streaming services Americans would end up having, Zaslav said, “I think people will have three or four.”
Zaslav also emphasized Discovery’s global reach. HBO Max, currently available in the US, is about to make an international push. Stankey said the combination will support HBO Max’s global growth “and create efficiencies which can be re-invested in producing more great content to give consumers what they want.”
Zaslav said Discovery and Warner currently spend a total of $20 billion a year on content. Netflix plans to spend at least $17 billion on content this year.
“Executives from both companies” will be in “key leadership roles,” according to the press release. WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar was not mentioned in the announcement, but Zaslav signaled that Kilar may remain with the company. “Jason is a fantastic talent,” Zaslav said.
Zaslav also affirmed the independence of CNN’s newsroom. He said he commits to “the greatest editorial integrity” for CNN and intends to fund CNN’s streaming service plans.
Zaslav, a longtime friend of CNN Worldwide chief Jeff Zucker, said at the press conference, “We love CNN… We think one of the true differentiators of the future is live news, live sports.”