While I admit I’m at times a bit less reverent to corporate executives who I truly wish would somehow find a way to accept me into their inner circles as many once did, when I choose to point out what they do that grinds my gears it’s not without good reason. Arguably, WBD chairman David Zaslav has triggered me more often than most.
Mr. Zaslav actually caught my attention prior to this year, and this mid-summer night’s scream from 2022 that tried to put into perspective his first earnings call at the helm set the stage for his doppelganger in these musings, “Yosemite Zas”. No, the physical resemblance isn’t there with Bugs Bunny’s nemesis, but, attitudinally, the similarities are rampant. Both have bluster, both seem to take pride in firing back at those they resent, and yet, there are constituencies that actually love them. In the case of the cartoon Sam, WBD has actually merchandised little Sam dolls and plush toys for decades. In the case of Mr. Zaslav, favorable earnings results have earned him eight-figure bonuses that have allowed him to upgrade his yacht.
While an uncomfortable number of personal friends and colleagues have lost their jobs in the process, and where countless other news and creative executives were also impacted by his uber-dedication to the bottom line and, sometimes, the leanings of the Yoda who enabled his rise through Discovery Communications, John Malone.
And just this week, one of the few remaining quality research talents still in the WBD camp, Andrea Zapata, announced on her LinkedIn feed that she was departing the company for what are hopefully greener (well, more magenta-hued) pastures. I’d like to believe it was amicable and her choosing, but the fact that yet another really talented person chose to end this year by leaving a company run by Yosemite Zas makes me dubious at best that such was the case.
So in what would be arguably these musings’ equivalent of “Person of the Year”, I offer up an encore the 2023 version of a mid-summer night’s scream that essentially captures the essence of why I have such mixed feelings about Mr. Zaslav–which is far more of a balanced view than many of you may otherwise have:
Lately, I seem to be confusing some people who, while well-intentioned, feel it’s absolutely necessary to express their opinion that by stating any of my own, or amplifying those who are critical of true power brokers, I am unwittingly assuring my own career demise. As if expressing my truth, or supporting the thoughts of anyone else so inclined, was somehow the real reason why my search for more meaningful work continues now into a fourth year.
So just to clear up any possible confusion, let me for the record reinforce this: When I reference Warner Brothers Discovery CEO David Zaslav as “Yosemite Zas”, I do so far more out of respect than I do vitriol. The cartoon character–incidentally, IP Zaslav now controls–is known for punching above his weight, reacting vehemently to challenges for his authority. And yes, in the cartoons Sam is often the victim of his own making, often left muttering to himself “ooooh, I hate that rabbit!!” But, almost inevitably, in ensuing works, Sam is still in charge.
As, for the moment, is Zas. Despite the feelings and potentially the agenda of one Jason Bailey, as the WASHINGTON POST’s Will Sommer dutifully reported yesterday:
Not only is this man a terrible CEO, but he’s also an imperious coward who’s more than willing to swat down anyone who dares question his authority. Our worst kind of rich person.
Maybe Zaslav was able to get Welch to back down from public criticism, but my bosses here at SFGATE won’t be similarly cowed. So, for the permanent record, let me state all of this again flatly: David Zaslav is an eel who sucks at his job. He’s destroying HBO. He’s destroyed what bare credibility the DC Universe had left with moviegoers. He’s forced GQ to willingly debase itself. He’s destroyed TCM. And while he couldn’t get Licht to destroy CNN, he’ll find some other pair of docksiders to finish the job.
It’s a fact that, in an age of mass consolidation, no one person could possibly run all of a billion-dollar entertainment conglomerate effectively. But David Zaslav has distinguished himself not only by being unable to run ANY part of one but also by being such a brazen coward about that fact. I shouldn’t know who this man is. But here he is, and now he should deal, in full, with what he’s wrought. He’s a parasite: a terrible CEO, an enemy to artists, and a lousy, horrible graduation speaker to boot. I hope he’s strapped to a chair and forced to watch “The Flash” on repeat for the rest of his pathetic little existence. And no, I’m not deleting this.
Whoa, young man. Cool your jets.
Here’s one fact you somehow missed out on, which Ellis did include in his recap. A story from the braintrust of SEEKING ALPHA.com, a website dedicated to news and recommendations for investors:
- While WBD’s prospects remain mixed due to the intense streaming war, immense debts, and uncertain macroeconomic outlook, David Zaslav’s execution proves to be stellar over the past three quarters.
- Its D2C segment finally achieves profitability as well, thanks to the raised subscription fees, expanding its overall gross margins.
- The management also controlled costs aggressively, expanding its overall adj EBITDA margins, well above its streaming peers.
- There may be massive tailwinds for the stock indeed, given the projected moderation in interest expenses from 2023 and FY2025 debt to EBITDA ratio of ~4x.
- As a result, we are finally rating the WBD stock as a Buy, with a long-term price target of $37.
Were I in any position to advise Zaslav, or any top executive who would allow me to be once again in a position similar to those I have been in past years, I would have advised him to draw his six-shooter out from his holster, stare down the likes of the creatives and creative-friendly journos and wannabe screenwriters who have piled on in a matter of hours, and simply use this–which directly impacts the people that Zaslav reports to–the shareholders–as his counter.
And I’d like to hope that Zaslav is standing tall privately, rather than give AF about what those who actually feel it’s their birthright to use such insulting language and make accusations that make any reference I may make to Yosemite Zas a virtual lovefest, simply say “How much did your genius contribute to your company’s bottom line this week?”
And let the likes of Will Welch–who apparently is not held in quite the same high regard by Zaslav as those he expressed about his mentor, former GE chairman Jack Welch, while he was being mercilessly booed by Boston University students in sympatico with striking writers–deal with the fallout from the decisions he chose to make that apparently has inflamed so many egos that are, at best, no less thick-skinned than those they accuse Zaslav of having.
But remember this, Will. All you’ve got is a development deal. Projects far further along in Zaslav’s world have been scrapped. Your SFGate buddy rattled off just a few. For reasons you may not like, but the people that folks in Zaslav’s echelon do. As someone who is currently employed as an executive of a supposedly unbiased publication as their full-time job, you should at least have had the guts to say that as a response, rather than allow a contributing writer to dictate the discourse that has ensued.
So for anyone who is calling for Zaslav’s resignation–or worse–in light of his track record, or the way he is being perceived by people who dismiss his style as oafish or tone-deaf, please–show some respect. Or at least as much as I feel he merits.
Anyone want to debate how capable I am to defend people who will hire me now?
Until next time…