The merger of Warner Bros and HBO studios with Discovery Inc could close on April 8, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Jason Kilar is stepping down as CEO of WarnerMedia, days before the parent company of Warner Bros. studios and HBO merges with Discovery Inc. to form a new media company.
Kilar, 50, who co-founded and ran the Hulu streaming service before moving on to operate WarnerMedia under current owner AT&T Inc., announced his plans Tuesday in an internal memo.
His departure paves the way for David Zaslav, chief executive of Discovery, to begin building his own management team at the soon-to-be-merged companies. The merger could close on April 8, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Kilar said in an interview that he hoped his legacy would be to transform Time Warner from a media conglomerate with separate divisions into a cohesive company “with a very clear mission and a clearly articulated strategy to go directly to the consumer and go global.”
AT&T named Kilar to head WarnerMedia in April 2020, betting that a tech executive with a broadcast background could lead the film and TV company into a new era. AT&T was about to introduce a streaming business, HBO Max, and saw Kilar, a former Amazon.com Inc. executive, as the right person for the job.
But a year later, AT&T decided to ditch its media business through a $43 billion merger of WarnerMedia with Discovery and return to its roots as a phone company. AT&T bought the former Time Warner for $85 billion in 2018, anticipating at the time that it could prosper by offering movies, TV shows and live sports to its phone and internet customers.
Kilar said he is proud of the achievements the company had made in diversity during his tenure. From the end of 2019 to the end of 2021, the number of employees of color at WarnerMedia in the US increased 3 percentage points to 41%.
Kilar made waves in the movie industry during the pandemic by releasing all Warner Bros. movies simultaneously in theaters and on the streaming service. That broke old distribution rules, which required theaters to carry new movies exclusively for 90 days or more.
While the exclusive movie window has now mostly been set at 45 days, Kilar predicted that movies going forward will be two-track. “Imax-worthy shows” will continue to be released exclusively in theaters, while “more nuanced” films, such as romantic comedies, will open in theaters and on streaming services at the same time.
“Ultimately, the consumer will decide,” he said.
While Netflix Inc. and Walt Disney Co.’s Disney+ have shown signs of slowing subscriber growth recently, Kilar noted that “we’re not seeing that” at HBO Max. He predicted that the number of households around the world that subscribe to a streaming service will eventually exceed one billion.
Kilar declined to say what he will do next. When asked who will replace him, he said, “David [Zaslav] is taking my job.
Kilar was known within WarnerMedia for his long “walks and talks,” meeting with employees while strolling the grounds of places like the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, California.
“Word has gotten around that when Jason calls to walk and talk, make sure you wear comfortable walking shoes!” he wrote her in his personal memo on Tuesday.
Kilar, a University of North Carolina alumnus, was on the court Monday night in New Orleans when his team lost to Kansas in the NCAA men’s national championship game. While maintaining his typical upbeat attitude, Kilar lamented the loss, saying “that part still hurts.”
(Updates with the CEO interview beginning in the fourth paragraph.)