If You Think Someone’s Shooting Blanks, Maybe You Should Look For A Smoking Gunnar?

I’m accused of being a little over the top when it comes to attempting to assess how well (or poorly) Warner Brothers Discovery CEO is faring at being a Hollywood mogul after many decades of East Coast-based work in a much lesser limelight, and perhaps that’s justified.  After all, he’s doing way better than me financially these days; indeed; he’s doing better than close to 99.99 per cent of America in that category.  Despite the track record that my observational partner in crime from Too Much TV Rick Ellis pointed out last night served as the foundation for the 2Q23 earnings call he participated in with financial and entertainment trade press yesterday:

WBD reported it lost 1.8 million direct-to-consumer paid subscribers globally in the the second quarter, after the somewhat combining of the HBO Max and Discovery+ subscription streaming platforms.

Ellis went on to explain how there are a whole bunch of caveats and asterisks that went into the baking of that number, the kind of minutiae and fine print that yours truly personally created over the years.  Not only did I develop a penchant for exaggerating with sales points to con executives into believing a reboot of 9 TO 5 was successful enough for me to justify an emergency pitch trip to New York City that allowed me to see Game 7 of the 1986 World Series live, I also was acknowledged for the fact that I could craft a trail of fine print that would appear equally as convincing as the kind that Ellis noted was at work in yesterday’s data drop:

The reported number of “subscribers” included herein and the definition of “DTC Subscription” as used herein excludes: (i) individuals who subscribe to DTC products, other than discovery+, HBO, HBO Max, and Max, that may be offered by us or by certain joint venture partners or affiliated parties from time to time; (ii) a limited number of international discovery+ subscribers that are part of non-strategic partnerships or short-term arrangements as may be identified by the Company from time to time; (iii) domestic and international Cinemax subscribers, and international basic HBO subscribers; and (iv) users on free trials except for those users on free trial that convert to a DTC Subscription within the first seven days of the next month as noted above.

Those are the kind of caveats that go in things like the backup documents for such pressers and 10k filings that have allowed folks like myself lanes to finance departments throughout my career.  I’ve dealt with many CFOs , few of which I would want to actually have a meal with, let alone a beer.  So when it was initally reported that my usual target Yosemite Zas was being called out by strikers from the WGA and SAG-Aftra for the statement that follows, my red alert went up that these otherwise detail-oriented strikers weren’t paying as much attention to their friends in the press that the should have:   Thankfully, THE WRAP’s Sharon Knolle authored a correction that was dropped last night that gave proper credit where it was due:

Warner Bros. Discovery CFO Gunnar Wiedenfels’ comment on Thursday that the media giant has saved $100 million since the strike began is not going over well with the actors and writers who are holding out for a better contract.

“Community” star Charley Koontz told TheWrap: “I think it’s interesting that today $100 million, is a lot to them. That’s a great savings for them today. Before, it was a pittance, it’s not worth making anything that [will earn less than] that… But that’s also a fraction of what we’re asking for. So you know, if [Warner Bros. Discovery CEO] David Zaslav is counting his quarters, maybe he can stock that away and put this [strike] to bed sooner rather than later,” he quipped.

“I think it really goes to show you how out of touch and heartless these people are and how they have zero respect for art,” said “Act Your Age” actress Bella Cruz, who was picketing at Netflix.

“When people say things like that, it’s mind-blowing. It’s hurtful, it’s unfortunate and greedy, honestly,” Cruz continued. “And I don’t know how as a human being he could feel comfortable saying something like that. What we’re asking for is so little based on the amount of money that they make… so that people can eat and pay their rent and do what they love.”

So as reports circulated later in the day that the WGA and the AMPTP are prepared to finally sit down on Day 94 of their disagreement, such as this update from STRIKEGEIST’s Elaine Low that included this caveat from the guil it was widely reported that it was folks like Zaslav to blame:

In a missive to its 11,500 or so members, the WGA’s negotiating committee said that it “won’t prejudge what’s to come” but added that “playbooks die hard,”.

It’s imperative that writers know who actually does write those playbooks and, I can assure them, it’s rarely the boss. Behind every great man is a great partner; behind every successful CEO is often a loyal and dedicated CFO.  Behind David Zaslav is Gunner Wiedenfels.

Here’s how the Warner Discovery website describes the person who really did make the statement that seemed to tick off a whole bunch of strikers:

As Chief Financial Officer, Gunnar Wiedenfels leads Discovery’s global financial functions and strategies, including all accounting, treasury, budgeting, tax and investor relations activities. Additionally, he serves on the executive team, contributing to the company’s overall strategic direction and operations.

Since joining Discovery in 2017, Wiedenfels has helped transform and modernize the company into the global leader in real-life entertainment. Most recently, he has been a key architect of Discovery’s agreement with AT&T to create a premier, standalone global entertainment company, to be called Warner Bros. Discovery. The proposed company combines WarnerMedia’s premium entertainment assets with Discovery’s leading nonfiction and international entertainment and sports business.  In addition, Wiedenfels played a key leadership role in the company’s 2018 acquisition of Scripps Networks Interactive, and the creation of the new Discovery from the successful integration of the two companies under a best-in-class, blended leadership team. Under Wiedenfels’ leadership, the company created a new operating model that delivered over a billion dollars in savings and achieved key operating and financial targets ahead of plan.

Wiedenfels joined Discovery following seven years in executive management roles at ProSiebenSat.1 Media SE in Munich, Germany. In his most recent role as CFO, he was responsible for the broadcaster outperforming analyst expectations and strong shareholder value creation. Under Wiedenfels, ProSiebenSat.1 was included in Germany’s DAX index of 30 largest listed companies by market capitalization in the country. Prior to his CFO role, he served as ProSieben’s Deputy CFO from 2014 to 2015 and Chief Group Controller from 2013 to 2015.

So, let’s see.  His top accomplishment as a Zaslav lackey was the previous integration of an acquired company’s assets and the shedding of dozens of staffers.  His legacy was deliveriug favorable results to Wall Street from a no-nonsense German media company.

And off his statement yesterday, WBD stock rose 3 per cent, in the same week that his sales force consolidated more businesses and laid off dozens more executives, including two entire sectors of the research team that historically would be his scriptwriter or at least his sounding board, including the person at the top of the global staff and many others I personally know that deserve better fates.

So you best believe I’m going to remind those on the picket lines that it’s not Yosemite Zas they should be turning their ire on, but indeed, his tail Gunnar.

I pondered and played with image generators to figure out what might be an appropriate avatar for Yosemite that also comes from the IP library that inspiration is a part of.   Somehow, I landed on Marvin the Martian, a trigger-happy alien (Yeah, I went there).  That character was often the foil for Daffy Duck’s DUCK DODGERS IN THE 24 1/2TH CENTURY, so somehow this cute little image came up:I kinda like it.

But I gotta admit, that wasn’t my first choice.  When I think about sidekicks and lackeys these days, particularly on days like yesterday when the phrase “co-conspirator number one” became a meme, I thought about a way to integrate this darling into my generative art:

I learned that the program I attempted to use (yes, it’s free, that might be an explanation) won’t allow me to include it, as it violates “community standards”.

But anyone who’s creative enough to be in a union like WGA or SAG is probably capable of getting the point.

As well as what I may think of Tail Gunnar these days.

Especially in light of what Yosemite did take credit for saying yesterday, per VARIETY’s Jennifer Moss:

We’re in the business of storytelling. Our goal is to tell great stories, stories with the power to entertain and, when we’re at our best, inspire with stories that come to life on screens big and small,” CEO David Zaslav said on the call with analysts. “We cannot do any of that without the entirety of the creative community, the great creative community. Without the writers, directors, editors, producers, actors, the whole below-the-line crew. Our job is to enable and empower them to do their best work. We’re hopeful that all sides will get back to the negotiating room soon and that these strikes get resolved in a way that the writers and actors feel they are fairly compensated and their efforts and contributions are fully valued.”

Were these more normal times, I’d chide that a statement like that was likely written for him and that all he did was deliver it.  But under the circumstances where so many people who otherwise would have had that responsibility were in the middle of exit interviews, I’ll leave open the possibility that perhaps that is how Zaslav really does feel.

But I’m pretty darn sure Wiedenfels isn’t quite that empathetic, at least in August.  But hey, if things don’t go swimmingly today, Oktoberfest isn’t far off, right?

Until next time…







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