WarnerMedia head Jason Kilar leaves ahead of Discovery merger

Jason Kilar, the WarnerMedia chief who came on board with ambitious plans for the company’s standalone streaming service and ended up effectively serving half his tenure as a lame duck, announced on Tuesday that he left the company.

The departure, which was widely expected, comes days before WarnerMedia completes a merger with Discovery Inc. and a new management team joins.

“Leading this team has been the honor of my entire life,” Mr. Kilar wrote in a note to staff. “My heart is so full and I am beyond grateful to each of you. There’s no better team on the planet, and I’m savoring every last step as I walk around Burbank multiple times this week, with this team always on my mind.

Mr. Kilar was hired by John Stankey, the chief executive of AT&T, the parent company of WarnerMedia, in April 2020, just weeks after the start of a global pandemic, and a month before HBO Max, the service of streaming company, does make its debut.

Mr. Kilar, founder of Hulu and Amazon veteran, has been focused on getting the company’s streaming service onto stable ground. Months into his term, Mr Kilar set to adopting a plan dubbed ‘Project Popcorn’, his most controversial move. As the pandemic rages on, Mr. Kilar announced in a December 2020 post on Medium that the Warner Bros. 2021 would release simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max, a decision that blindsided most filmmakers and their reps.

Streaming analysts applauded the decision, and HBO Max had a good year. HBO and HBO Max ended 2021 with more than 70 million subscribers worldwide, beating internal expectations, according to AT&T.

But the decision landed like a thud in Hollywood creative circles. Richard Lovett, co-chairman of the Creative Artists Agency, called it “the epitome of self-serving corporate maneuvering designed to benefit your business while wreaking havoc on the industry.” Filmmakers like Denis Villeneuve, Christopher Nolan and David Chase have all criticized him.

Just as Mr. Kilar was implementing his vision, his bosses at AT&T were secretly planning their exit from the entertainment business. In February 2021, a month after Project Popcorn began, Stankey entered discussions with David Zaslav, Discovery’s chief executive, about a merger, a conversation that continued through March and April.

Mr Stankey kept Mr Kilar in the dark about the deal until days before it was announced in May. Mr. Zaslav will take over the combined company Warner Bros. Discovery once the merger is complete.

Mr. Kilar also oversaw the February 2022 departure of CNN boss Jeff Zucker, an outing that grabbed headlines for weeks. Mr Zucker said he was leaving because he was romantically involved with a subordinate, Allison Gollust, and had not disclosed it to the company. Mr. Kilar offered few details and no further explanation, leaving much of the CNN staff angry.

Two weeks later, Mr. Kilar told staffers that Mr. Zucker and Ms. Gollus had committed “violations of company policies,” including CNN’s reporting standards and practices, a charge that they both denied.

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