At The New York Time DealBook Summit on Nov. 29, Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) CEO David Zaslav reflected on the months-long Hollywood strikes, which ended in September for the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and November for the Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA). As the leader of one of the largest media and entertainment powerhouses in the world, Zaslav was a central figure representing film and TV studios during the labor movement.
The unions took issue with Zaslav’s outsized compensation packages. He made $40 million in 2022 while many Hollywood writers struggled to make ends meet. In June, the Los Angeles Times reported that Zaslav’s salary in the last five years was 384 times that of the average writer in Hollywood. And overall, studio executives’ pay rose 53 percent between 2018 and 2021 while writers’ wage remained stagnant over the same periods. These points became central for both unions as they sought better pay and benefits.
Zaslav made a comment recently to The New York Times that he believed that the writers were “right about almost everything” in their demands to the studios, which prompted questions about why he and other media leaders didn’t reach an agreement sooner. When asked about his recent remark at Wednesday’s event, he doubled down, saying he felt the same way about the actor’s demands too.
“I believe what I said. When I spoke to Fran and Duncan before, I said, ‘I agree with a lot of what you’re saying,’” Zaslav said, referring to SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher and executive director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland. He maintained during the interview that he and other studio executives like Bob Iger were working hard to stop the strikes.
Though he seemed to think the union’s demands were reasonable, even saying he was fine with “overpaying for great talent,” at the summit he placed the responsibility on economic headwinds, such as the struggling ad market and the shift from cable to streaming, rather than himself and other media leaders. “This idea that the industry is changing, that’s the reason why the writers went on strike and why the actors went on strike. We needed to battle over these issues,” he said.
WBD estimated in September that the the strikes would cost the company between $300-$500 million this year. Though there have been a couple of bright spots in WBD’s latest earnings report, including growing profits from its Max streaming platform and the success of the Barbie movie, produced by Warner Bros. Pictures under WBD, Zaslav still faces an uphill battle to turn around the conglomerate’s loss. WBD lost $417 million in the quarter ended September.
When Zaslav became the head of WBD in May 2021, he immediately cut hundreds of jobs across the company and canceled projects that were nearly completed—the most controversial of which being Batgirl—in an effort to cut $3 billion in annual costs. Since then, he has raised his cost-saving goal to $3.5 billion.