David Zaslav talks CNN, Netflix and ‘Opportunity’ at Sun Valley

SUN VALLEY, Idaho — David Zaslav was upbeat as he arrived in Sun Valley, Idaho on Tuesday for Allen & Co.’s gathering of business media and tech moguls. The Warner Bros. Discovery CEO had kind words for Netflix and “Stranger Things,” and he told reporters that he expects the annual summit to be “a great week” amid “a lot of turmoil in the business.”

Zaslav indicated that Warner Bros. Discovery is weighing quality vs. quantity concerns as it plots strategy for the combined company’s streaming future.

“That means, I think, a lot of opportunity,” Zaslav told Variety as he pulled up at the Sun Valley Lodge to the invitation-only conference. And Warner Bros. Discovery’s got great, quality content. So I think the world has changed. And it’s not about how much, it’s about how good. And so we’re pretty excited about our new company and getting to see everybody in this beautiful setting. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Formerly the CEO of Discovery, Zaslav has been running the renamed Warner Bros. Discovery since the acquisition of WarnerMedia from AT&T closed in April. Among Zaslav’s first moves at the helm was to hire Chris Licht as leader of CNN chief, following the ouster of Jeff Zucker earlier this year, and shuttering the cable news network’s short-lived streamer CNN+.

On Tuesday, Zaslav responded to a question about low ratings at CNN, which has not seen a ratings boost from its coverage of the Jan. 6 hearings over the last month.

“I think Chris is doing a great job pivoting CNN,” Zaslav said. “Journalism first. America needs a news network where everybody can come and be heard; Republicans, Democrats. I think you’re seeing more of that at CNN. I think it’s the greatest news brand in the world with the greatest. And we’re going to lean into that. We’re not going to look at the ratings and, in the long run, it’s going to be worth more.”

One of Zaslav’s big plans announced for Warner Bros. Discovery is the eventual integration of HBO Max and Discovery+ into one platform. No time table has been given just yet on when WBD will launch the melded product, but Zaslav confirmed at Sun Valley the plan is still to fuse them into one, and “we’ll talk about how we’re going to do it, and when, soon.”

Speaking of competitors, Zaslav answered a reporter’s query about how Netflix’s experimentation with rollout strategy for “Stranger Things” Season 4, which was broken into two volumes released just over a month apart, might affect Warner Bros. Discovery’s own idea for rollout across its streaming platforms.

“’Stranger Things’ is a great, great, terrific show. And Netflix is ​​a great company; Reed and Ted,” Zaslav said, speaking of Netflix co-CEOs Reed Hastings and Ted Sarandos, both of whom at the Sun Valley conference earlier Tuesday arrived. “And I think if we do quality content that people love– we’ve got to create more content that people will pay for before they’ll pay for dinner or they’ll rush home to see. And that’s our focus. Great storytelling and that’s what Netflix is ​​focused on. And I think if we continue to do great content, we’ll do great.”

Allen & Co.’s Sun Valley conference will begin to earnest Wednesday with sessions and presentations hosted for the event, colloquially known as summer camp for billionaires.

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