Jason Kilar, the former Hulu and Amazon executive who has led WarnerMedia as CEO since May 2020, has formalized his intention to leave the company on the eve of its merger with Discovery.
In a memo to staff today, the executive confirmed his departure just days before the expected closing of the $43 billion merger. It’s not known exactly when the suit becomes official, but several insiders suggest it will likely be next week.
Kilar’s departure had been expected for almost a year. WarnerMedia’s parent company AT&T proposed to spin off WarnerMedia into a new entity controlled by Discovery in May 2021. A period of corporate jockeying around the time of the stealthily brokered deal came to a head when Kilar was introduced in a long profile in the the wall street journal, positioning him as the long-term leader of the company. Less than two days after this article was published, it was revealed that Discovery CEO David Zaslav would be the one leading the new entity.
Despite the writing on the wall, executives from AT&T, WarnerMedia or Discovery have never confirmed a specific path for Kilar and he has always been hesitant when asked about his plans. After initial rumors that the executive had explored his legal options after being blindsided by the deal, he settled in and oversaw a period of strong financial performance and consolidation at WarnerMedia.
HBO Max in particular found its footing under Kilar, who came on board largely due to his streaming expertise. The platform got off to a shaky start in May 2020 for a host of reasons, but Kilar quickly brokered key distribution deals with Amazon and Roku and executed a restructuring aimed at making the long-troubled organizational chart more cohesive. Helped by trending series like Succession and Euphoria and Warner Bros. day-to-day movie releases, the service ended 2021 with 73.8 million subscribers worldwide when combined with linear HBO. Kilar achieved two of his key goals with HBO Max in 2021, adding an ad-supported tier and expanding to dozens of territories outside of the US
Kilar has remained a highly visible presence at WarnerMedia, appearing last week at a launch event for CNN+ atop the company’s New York headquarters at Hudson Yards.
“There are many feelings one can have at a time like this,” Kilar wrote in the staff memo, “but to me, there is nothing greater or more enduring than the feelings of gratitude and love I have for this team, this company and this mission.
Kilar has repeatedly refused to say where he sees his next professional opportunity. Besides being the founding chief of Hulu, he also founded and ran a video startup, Vessel, which was acquired by Verizon and then shut down.
The executive reshuffle provides one of the final punctuation marks to AT&T’s $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner. The deal, which was reached in 2018 after a government antitrust challenge, ultimately proved to be a costly mess and one that drew comparisons to the company’s previous nightmare, an ill-fated union with AOL in the 2000s. AT&T’s takeover of Time Warner, in addition to its purchase of DirecTV two years earlier, is estimated to have cost AT&T shareholders some $50 billion. Given the red ink and staggering debt load, AT&T opted to refocus on its core telecommunications business, turning DirecTV into a new entity 30% owned by private equity firm TPG. The new entertainment entity is equally weighted to AT&T shareholders, but Discovery gains operational control.
Here’s Kilar’s full memo:
As the current transaction with Discovery draws to a close, now is a good time to share with each of you that I will be leaving this incredible company.
There are many feelings one can feel at a time like this, but for me there is nothing greater or more lasting than the feelings of gratitude and love that I have. for this team, this company and this mission. I have never been so fulfilled professionally. I have never been so happy professionally. This team – and what we’ve built together – is why. We lead the industry creatively. We have elevated technology, products and design to the highest corporate standards. We operate as one team, proudly and successfully going directly to consumers around the world. It has been deeply gratifying to look into the future with you and to do so with conviction.
The joys are many, especially the discussions I’ve had with so many of the WarnerMedia team, diving deep into current affairs, whether on the Burbank multi-storey lot, along the High Line at Hudson Yards, in and around Techwood and the CNN Center, at our archives, on the vast grounds of Leavesden, at any of our game studios, or the many other places where this team is literally changing the world . Apparently it’s been rumored that when Jason calls for a walk and a chat, be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes!
For those of you who know me well (or who follow me on Twitter), it’s no surprise that I love our history and the footprint we have as a company around the world. I have done my best to visit and get to know as many of you as possible and to photographically document my love for this team and this company along the way via social media. So when my wife Jamie and I thought about what we could do on our own to adequately express our appreciation to each of you, we came up with the idea of creating a series of artifacts featuring some of the photos I have taken to celebrate this team and WarnerMedia. We invite each of you to visit this website and pick an image that resonates… from the iconic Warner Bros. water tower, the glittering towers of Hudson Yards, the virtual production stage in Leavesden and many more. An artifact containing this image (and a note from me on the back) will be shipped to you in the coming weeks. We hope this keepsake brings a smile and reminds you of the important contributions we have made to the 99-year legacy of this extraordinary company.
Leading this team has been the honor of my life. My heart is so full, and I am beyond grateful to each of you. There’s no better team on the planet, and I’ll savor every last step as I walk around the lot in Burbank several times this week, with this team on my mind, always.