WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar said he is leaving the company when the AT&T entertainment unit’s merger with Discovery closes on Friday — just weeks after he faced a backlash over the ouster of CNN boss Jeff Zucker.
Kilar has been a lightening rod figure in Hollywood, implementing a plan during the pandemic to relase the company’s entire 2021 slate of Warner Bros. on the company’s nascent streaming service HBO Max at the same time as introducing them in movie theaters.
That decision was ultimately embraced by rivals like Disney and Universal Pictures.
Most recently, Kilar grabbed headlines after he made the call that CNN boss Jeff Zucker should step down amid recent controversies at the news network.
Kilar made the decision to push out CNN’s Zucker for failing to disclose a personal relationship with CNN marketing and communications chief Allison Gollust, who also subsequently resigned.
The revelation of the relationship was part of a probe into whether former CNN anchor Chris Cuomo had misled his superiors about the extent of help he was giving his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in his fight against allegations of sexual harassment. Kilar was grilled over the decision by CNN staffers at town-hall-style meetings.
Kilar’s exit from WarnerMedia, home of CNN, Warner Bros. and HBO, was expected since AT&T and Discovery first announced the deal last spring. The announcement marks Kilar’s formalization of the plan as Discovery CEO David Zaslav prepares to helm the combined company, dubbed Warner Bros. Discovery.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Kilar said he has “no immediate plans” for his next move, but added that he would continue to focus on technology, storytelling and innovation. “I’m not going to retire and sit on a beach,” he said.
The exec, who joined WarnerMedia in April 2020 just as HBO Max was preparing to launch, came from Hulu where he served as CEO after its launch in 2007.
During his tenure at WarnerMedia, he also revamped the company’s structure, consolidating approximately 2,000 positions, including some of the most senior roles.
The changes have resulted in HBO and HBO Max nabbing nearly 74 million subscribers, up from 20 million from before Kilar grabbed the reins in 2020. As the pandemic has waned, Warner Bros. has since resumed putting movies into theaters first, adopting a 45-day theatrical window before they land on HBO Max
“With the pending transaction with Discovery nearing close, now is the right time to share with each of you that I will be departing this amazing company,” Kilar said in a memo sent to WarnerMedia staff.
“There are many feelings one could have in a moment like this, but for me there are none bigger, or more lasting, than the feelings of gratitude and love that I have for this team, this company, and this mission.”