Jason Kilar, head of WarnerMedia, who came up with ambitious plans for the company’s stand-alone streaming service and ended up serving half of his term effectively as a lame duck, announced on Tuesday that he was leaving the company.
The expected departure comes days before WarnerMedia is due to complete its merger with Discovery and the new team takes the lead.
“Leading this team has been a part of my life,” he wrote. Kilar in a letter to staff. “My heart is so full, and I am immensely grateful to each of you. There is no better team on the planet, and I will enjoy every last step while I wander the field in Burbank a few more times this week, with this team always in mind. “
Mr. Killar was hired by John Stankey, CEO of AT&T, WarnerMedia’s parent company, in April 2020, just weeks after the pandemic and a month before HBO Max, the company’s streaming service, was due to debut.
Mr. Killar, a Hulu founder and Amazon veteran, was focused on establishing a stable streaming service for the company. Months after his tenure, he embarked on a plan called Project Popcorn, which was his most controversial decision. With the pandemic raging, Mr. Kilar announced in a December 2020 announcement on Medium that the Warner Bros. movie plan would. In 2021, it will be released simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max, a decision that has blinded most filmmakers and their representatives.
Streaming analysts welcomed the decision, and HBO Max had a good year. HBO and HBO Max ended 2021 with more than 70 million global subscribers, exceeding internal expectations, according to AT&T.
But the decision fell like a blow to creative circles in Hollywood. Richard Lovett, co-chair of the Agency for Creative Artists, called it “the embodiment of a corporate maneuver of self-interest that aims to benefit your company while causing devastation in the industry.” Filmmakers like Denis Villeneuve, Christopher Nolan and David Chase have criticized him.
Just as Mr. Kilar was realizing his vision, his bosses at AT&T were secretly planning their exit from the stage. In February 2021, a month after the Popcorn project, Mr. Stankey began talks with David Zaslav, Discovery’s CEO, on the merger, a conversation that continued in March and April.
Mr. Stankey kept Mr. Killar in the dark about the deal until a few days before it was announced in May. Mr. Zaslav will take over the combined company Warner Bros. Discovery when the merger is final.
Mr. Kilar also oversaw the February departure of Jeff Zucker, the head of CNN, a departure that had been on the front pages for weeks. Mr Zucker said he was leaving because he had a romantic relationship with a subordinate, Allison Gollust, and did not disclose that to the company. Mr. Kilar offered several details and no alternative explanation, leaving much of CNN’s staff angry.
Two weeks later, Mr. Kilar told staff members that Mr. Zucker and Ms. Gollust committed “violations of company policy,” including CNN’s news standards and practices, an accusation they both denied.