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WarnerMedia’s Jason Kilar Deflects Probe Of Future Plans; Promises Company Will Spend “North” Of $18B On New Content Over Next Year

·4-min read

“I would far prefer this adventure to go on for 10, 20 years, but that’s not the way corporate America works,” outgoing WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar admitted Tuesday.

“The last year and a half have been among the most fulfilling of my professional life,” Kilar, who invoked Hollywood’s wrath with his decision late last year to move all of Warner Bros’ 2021 slate to same-day release on HBO Max, told MSNBC anchor and moderator Stephanie Ruhle at the Code Conference in Beverly Hills.

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“I will be running WarnerMedia in Q1,” a tight-smiling Kilar declared later in the sit-down after deflecting constant questions about his future plans. However, the controlled executive allowed a peek into his true state of mind when he was asked by Ruhle at one point whether he was disappointed at the coming end of his WarnerMedia tenure.

“I’m human,” he replied, “so in that context, yes.”

Facing a sell-by date of next year once AT&T’s planned multibillion-dollar spinoff of WarnerMedia into a new entity run by Discovery CEO David Zaslav takes hold (pending regulatory approval), Kilar’s future is in flux. As to what role he could have in the new company, AT&T CEO John Stankey called the former Hulu CEO a “fantastic talent,” but punted on specifics.

“David’s got decisions he’s gotta make across a broad cross-section of how he wants to organize the business and who will be in what roles moving forward in this transition period,” added Stankey, the telecommunications boss and former WarnerMedia leader.

Whispers are that Kilar could end up back at Amazon, where he was one of Jeff Bezos’ brain-trust execs from 1997-2006. If joining up again with the giant now run by Andy Jassy doesn’t come to pass, the bet is the ambitious Kilar will find a perch high up in the tech world one way or another. Perhaps leaning into that, Kilar said, “I won’t bet against Andy” and praised Bezos in front of the well-heeled Beverly Hilton crowd.

Promising to spend “north of 18” billion dollars on content over the next year in the competitive streaming space that includes Netflix, Apple TV+, Disney+, Amazon Prime and more, Kilar acknowledged he botched the landing with his decision in late 2020 to take a hybrid release approach with Warner Bros’ 17-movie slate. “We endeavored to do the right thing in terms of communication,” the CEO said.

“Change is hard,” Kilar also noted, adding that he and his team should have spent a month or more having “170 conversations” with creatives, talent and agencies.

“Our intentions were good,” he said.

Those intentions have smashed up against some hard realities.

Since May 17, when AT&T announced tis $43 billion deal to merge WarnerMedia with Discovery, the telecom giant’s shares have dropped 19%. Today, they drifted down a fraction to end the trading session at $27.24, near a one-year low. (Discovery’s have fallen 34%, suggesting Wall Street wariness of the transaction, which is still under regulatory review.)

The lag in AT&T’s share price is nothing new. Apart from brief spurts of optimism about the company’s forays into entertainment with the acquisitions of Time Warner and DirecTV, shares have largely moved sideways for a decade. Unlike the institutional control of most other blue-chip stocks, 48% of AT&T shares are owned by individual investors. That structure requires the company to devote financial resources to paying quarterly dividends rather than re-routing funds for debt repayment or other purposes.

Still, Kilar himself isn’t letting anyone see him sweat, taking to social media Tuesday to project his love of the company he will certainly soon exit.

The Code Conference continues through tomorrow.

Dade Hayes contributed to this report

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