Feb 24, 2022 - Economy

Discovery readies WarnerMedia merger amid uncertainty over CNN

Total subscribers by streaming service, Q1 2020 to Q4 2021
Data: Company filings; Note: Paramount+ & Showtime was formerly CBS All Access + Showtime, Discovery includes discovery+ as well as other Discovery streaming services. Hulu only includes on-demand subscribers.; Chart: Axios VIsuals

As Discovery prepares to close its merger with WarnerMedia in April, its ultimate plans for CNN remain unclear.

Why it matters: It's a big area of the business to be left hazy. Even as he was praising CNN's coverage of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Discovery CEO David Zaslav said the strategy for a CNN under Warner Bros. Discovery has yet to be formed.

  • "We will in the next, in the near term, sit down and have a real business plan discussion with the people at CNN and CNN+.  We haven't had that yet, we haven't seen it," Zaslav said Thursday morning during the company's quarterly earnings call with analysts.

Details: CNN is preparing to launch its own streaming service, CNN+, in the spring. But there is skepticism as to whether or not people would pay for a standalone CNN service.

  • When Warner Bros. Discovery is formed, it will already include Discovery+ and HBO Max.
  • One source offers that it might make sense for CNN+ to be part of some broader offering that includes HBO Max and Discovery+.
  • CNN+ will have 8-12 live daily and weekly original series along with "more than a thousand hours of on-demand content" according to CNN press release on Wednesday.
  • Other new streamers like HBO Max launched with 10 times that amount.

By the numbers: Discovery now has 22 million streaming subscribers, the bulk of that going towards Discovery+.

  • That is still far behind other more established streaming services. HBO Max has more than 73 million subscribers.
  • Netflix and Disney+ have more than 100 million each, with Netflix topping 200 million.

The big picture: Streaming is expensive and even those who show growth can get punished by a Wall Street crowd that is growing increasingly wary of streaming's long-term viability.

  • Paramount Global's stock tanked the day after Paramount+ announced its best quarter of growth since its launch. Investors were doubly concerned with Paramount's plan to invest even more capital into streaming.
  • Discovery execs cautioned they'll be more measured about their content spending.
  • "It’s not about winning the spending war," said Discovery CFO Gunner Wiedenfels on the earnings call.

What's next: The merger is expected to close in mid-April, a source familiar with the deal tells Axios.

  • There are still a few more boxes to check, starting with the Discovery shareholder vote on March 11. The deal has already received regulatory approval in the U.S. and European Union.
  • The first step after the deal closes will be putting together a leadership team under Zaslav, which will likely include new heads of news, sports and entertainment. Current WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar is expected to depart after the merger closes.
  • As Axios has previously reported, it’s likely Zaslav will keep his Discovery leadership team intact for many of the non-creative functions. Don't expect to see a larger leadership team announcement before April.
Go deeper