Startling Upheaval at WarnerMedia Is Another Sign of Unsettling Times
I’ve been an entertainment journalist for more than three decades, and I truly cannot recall a time when one media company went through as much extreme management upheaval over such a short, concentrated period of time as WarnerMedia.
Since this past August, three months after former Hulu chief Jason Kilar took the reins as CEO, there has been a mass departure of senior executives from a studio that for many, many years was considered the most stable of all the Hollywood giants.
I get it. New regimes always bring about change. Movie scripts and TV projects in development get tossed out. Overall deals get scrutinized. And, yes, some veteran executives get shown the door as the incoming leader reorganizes and puts his or her own team in place. But the sheer number of senior managers to exit over the past three months has been startling by any measure.
The first to go were vets Bob Greenblatt, chairman of WarnerMedia Entertainment and Direct-to-Consumer, and Kevin Reilly, president of the TBS and TNT cable channels and chief content officer of HBO Max.
While their ousters sent shockwaves through the entertainment community, it resulted from Kilar wanting to consolidate business units and radically reinvent WarnerMedia as a more direct-to-consumer-oriented company around the nucleus of new streaming service HBO Max. Kilar stated at the time that he wanted to shift from a wholesale mindset to a global “consumer mindset.”
Again, understandable given how much the consumption of entertainment had been shifting even before the pandemic and then was exacerbated when out-of-the-home leisure options like going to our local movie theaters were taken away. This week, Universal doubled down on a pact with Cinemark Theatres to bring movies to the home more quickly following its recent similar arrangement with AMC Theatres.
Also, over the past two weeks, WarnerMedia saw further management changes with the departures of senior marketing executives Blair Rich, JP Richards, Jim Gallagher and Lisa Gregorian.
The exodus comes as the media giant is undergoing significant layoffs across its businesses, though Kilar insists the new departures are totally unrelated to the overall staff reductions. With more executive tumult likely in the offing, I just hope WarnerMedia is addressing the psychic toll this is taking on all the thousands of employees who are distracted by the fear of losing their own jobs.