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WarnerMedia staffers fear 'bloodbath' of layoffs ahead of Discovery merger after firing of 9 execs

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‘Paranoid’ WarnerMedia staff are preparing for another round of layoffs ahead of the completion of its merger with media conglomerate Discovery, sources have revealed, after a firing spree this week saw nine top execs nixed from the company.

The nine departures saw the exit of CEO Jason Kilar, Warner Bros. chief Ann Sarnoff, and HBO Max general manager Andy Forssell.

Other staffers set to leave the company Friday include WarnerMedia CRO Tony Goncalves, CTO Richard Tom, CFO Jennifer Biry, Executive Vice President Jim Cummings, CIO Christy Haubegger and WarnerMedia general counsel Jim Meza.  

All were top members of Kilar’s management team.

‘I’ve never seen such paranoia. It’s bad, it’s crazy,’ a source from within the company – which owns HBO, CNN, and Warner Bros – told the Wrap Thursday. ‘These people are palpably nervous.’ 

The source added that the anxiety felt by staffers about the merger, which is expected to close this month, has been compounded by isolation brought on by the pandemic, as workers at media company continue to work remotely.

‘These people have been working at home for two years. They can’t even talk to each other [in person],’ the insider said, who added that staff are preparing to be booted after the slew of senior-level dismissals seen this week.   

Other sources added that while most of Kilar’s leadership team has already been nixed as a result of the merger – with the exception of HBO/HBO Max President Casey Bloys, Warner Bros. Pictures Chairman Toby Emmerich and Warner Bros. TV Group Chief Channing Dungey – many remain panicked that they will be next on the chopping block. 

Their suspicions were further compounded by other insiders who asserted to The New York Post Thursday that David Zaslav, the new CEO of the combined media firm – dubbed Warner Bros. Discovery – is expected to engage in more mass firings when he assumes control of the megacompany Monday. 

According to the insiders, Zaslav, 62, Discovery’s current CEO, is expected to take a scalpel to the combined company – which reportedly instituted a hiring freeze last month, The Daily Beast reported – in the coming weeks to cut costs.

The nine departures saw the exit of CEO Jason Kilar, who announced he was leaving the company earlier this week

The nine departures saw the exit of CEO Jason Kilar, who announced he was leaving the company earlier this week

Warner Bros. CEO Ann Sarnoff will also leave the company once the Discovery deal closes

HBO Max boss Andy Forssell exited the company Wednesday, ahead of the completion of its merger with Discovery

Also nixed during the wave of senior-level layoffs were Warner Bros. chief Ann Sarnoff (left) and HBO Max head Andy Forssell (right), both top members of Kilar’s management team

The staffers’ assertions coincides with statements given to the press earlier by insiders earlier in the year, which detailed Zaslav’s plans to weed out at least $3 billion in ‘cost synergies’ – savings incurred by cutting operating costs after the merger of two companies – for the firm by 2023.   

The sources added that Zaslav plans to be extremely ‘hands-on’ in his new role as boss of the burgeoning media empire, which will also oversee Discovery properties Animal Planet, TLC, The Food Network, and its namesake Discovery Channel.

‘We don’t know anything,’ one current employee told The Wrap. ‘They are keeping us in the dark. Everybody has merger fatigue and it hasn’t even happened yet.’

The staffer added that Discovery’s reputation for being ‘cheap’ is not helping workers’ anxiety.

David Zaslav, the new CEO of the combined media firm - dubbed Warner Bros. Discovery - is expected to engage in more mass firings when he assumes control of the megacompany Monday, multiple Warner sources said following the layoffs

David Zaslav, the new CEO of the combined media firm – dubbed Warner Bros. Discovery – is expected to engage in more mass firings when he assumes control of the megacompany Monday, multiple Warner sources said following the layoffs

Another employee told the outlet that most staffers in Warner’s three principal operating divisions – Turner Broadcasting System, Home Box Office, and Warner Bros. – with the exception of a select few, fear their positions are in jeopardy.

‘If you are in “Harry Potter” or games [development departments], I would imagine you are fine, but everyone else is worried.’ 

Meanwhile, on social media, concerned onlookers have been expressing sympathy and support for WarnerMedia employees amid the mass layoffs.  

‘The bloodbath continues,’ Morning Brew host Brandon Katz wrote on social media Tuesday, after news of HBO Max head Andy Forssell’s axing broke.

The entertainment host then posited that the new company’s low-level employees are likely to be next.

‘The WarnerMedia exodus is going to be brutal as Discovery takes over. I feel for the many layoffs at the non-executive level that are coming.’

A commenter on Katz’ post agreed that Discovery had gone too far with the wave of firings seen this week, which saw Kilar’s management team virtually wiped out.

‘Another bad decision. How do you get rid of the people who built the streamer with the most momentum? There will be lots of pressure on the cheap cable guys to do better. My guess is they won’t and they will be replaced themselves.’

On social media, concerned onlookers have been expressing sympathy and support for WarnerMedia employees amid the mass layoffs. 'The bloodbath continues,' Morning Brew host Brandon Katz wrote Tuesday, after news of HBO Max head Andy Forssell's axing broke

On social media, concerned onlookers have been expressing sympathy and support for WarnerMedia employees amid the mass layoffs. ‘The bloodbath continues,’ Morning Brew host Brandon Katz wrote Tuesday, after news of HBO Max head Andy Forssell’s axing broke

Another user added: ‘I do hope the new leadership is considering what they are removing and who will handle that work to the same level. I mean, getting rid of the streaming chief [Forssell] for the hit platform and putting someone from the Discovery+ team in there wouldn’t exactly make me confident!’ 

Meanwhile, Zaslav’s stranglehold on the company looks to be strengthening, as the new CEO on Thursday implemented a new corporate structure that will see 10 high-level execs report directly to him personally. 

Staffers set to join the CEO’s new inner circle include HBO and HBO Max chief content officer Casey Bloys; Warner Bros. chairman Toby Emmerich; CNN chairman and CEO Chris Licht; and JB Perrette, CEO and president of Warner Bros. Discovery global streaming and interactive entertainment. 

Discovery has reportedly honed in on streaming as a possible area it could incur savings, as the new company is set to have two premier streaming offerings following the completion of the merger Friday, in Discovery+ and HBO Max. 

In recent months, Discovery brass have aired plans to combine the two services, which would likely result in a wave of layoffs. 

The insiders’ concerns regarding their job security comes on the heels of former WarnerMedia CEO Kilar’s announcement that he would be leaving the company later this week – two months after his controversial decision to cut CNN boss Jeff Zucker.

‘With the pending transaction with Discovery nearing close, now is the right time to share with each of you that I will be departing this amazing company,’ Kilar – who was appointed as head exec in April 2020, at the height of the pandemic – said in the memo to employees Tuesday.

Following the exec’s announcement, many wondered whether Discovery brass decided to nix Kilar’s contract to avoid paying him a reported $20 million payout.

Last year, the Hollywood Reporter reported Kilar was in line for the substantial severance package if he made it to the two-year anniversary of his hiring, which would have been on May 1, 2022. Further details on his exit deal have not been disclosed.

Kilar took over as head the company just before the launch of the HBO Max streaming service. During his tenure, he oversaw a sweeping restructuring of the firm that summer, focusing it on the streaming service and installing new leadership.

Kilar was also behind the decision to oust former CNN chief Jeff Zucker in Febraury, after it was revealed that he was involved in a personal relationship with CNN marketing and communication head Allison Gollust.

Kilar's nixing come two months after his controversial decision to cut CNN boss Jeff Zucker (pictured)

Kilar’s nixing come two months after his controversial decision to cut CNN boss Jeff Zucker (pictured)

Incoming CNN honcho Chris Licht, 50, who headed Stephen Colbert's Late Show for six years and is set to replace Zucker and enter Zaslav's new inner circle

Incoming CNN honcho Chris Licht, 50, who headed Stephen Colbert’s Late Show for six years and is set to replace Zucker and enter Zaslav’s new inner circle

The pair reportedly came under pressure for violating corporate policy by not disclosing the nature of his consensual romance with second-in-command Gollust, his friend and colleague of over 20 years.

Gollust subsequently left the network following a third-party investigation into ‘issues associated with Chris Cuomo and former Governor Andrew Cuomo,’ Kilar said in a statement at the time. 

WarnerMedia leaders laid off this week

-WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar  

-Warner Bros. chief Ann Sarnoff 

-Head of HBO Max Andy Forssell 

-WarnerMedia CRO Tony Goncalves 

-Warner Media CTO Richard Tom 

-Warner Media CFO Jennifer Biry 

-Executive Vice President and Chief HR Officer Jim Cummings 

-Executive VP of Communications and CIO Christy Haubegger 

Jim Meza, Warner’s general counsel  

Kilar went on to shoulder responsibility for the decision, after many feared the news network’s ratings would decline as a result of the popular anchor’s dismissal.

‘There are times in this role where decisions need to be made that may not be popular but are important to make. Being a leader is not a popularity contest,’ Kilar told the Wall Street Journal.

The departing CEO also engaged in developing Warner Bros’ now flourishing gaming unit, and had staff directly report to him, a hierarchy move that paid eventually paid off. 

In 2021, the unit’s profits reached an all-time high as one game in particular, Harry Potter: Magic Awakened, had eclipsed last year’s most profitable movie – Godzilla vs. Kong.

Kilar at the time also revealed he was blindsided by Warner’s talks with Discovery. However, rather than immediately step down from his role, the 50-year-old decided to stay on and work towards the future.

Licht has since been tabbed by Zaslav to be Zucker’s successor.   

At the time, Licht sent a memo to his future staff, saying: ‘I look forward to getting to know all of you and hearing your candid thoughts and feedback. 

‘Our viewers demand the truth from us, and I want to learn the truth from you. Together, we will double-down on what’s working well and quickly eliminate what’s not.’ 

Licht said his one directive as incoming CNN president is to ensure that it ‘remains the global leader in news’ as the network’s parent company, WarnerMedia, merges with the Discovery Channel – emphasizing the word news in capital letters.  

The merger marks the second time in five years WarnerMedia has found itself under new ownership. In 2018, the company, then known as Time Warner, was acquired by AT&T in 2018, spurring a wave of layoffs and restructuring that has since been exacerbated by the pandemic, which brought on another round of firings.

Discovery did not immediately respond to DailyMail.com’s request for comment on the rumored layoffs Friday afternoon.      

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