Writers’ Strike Just Tip of Iceberg?
All month, the writers’ strike has raged, with screenwriters railing against Hollywood companies for refusing to pay them a living wage.
As part of their demands, writers are insisting on structural changes to how media companies like Netflix handle compensating them amid the proliferation of streaming services and series’ expansion overseas. (For a full rundown of the strike, check out the write-up from Power Corridor’s parent company, The Daily Upside.)
This past weekend offered a rare chance to take the battle directly to the doorstep of a media boss: David Zaslav, the multimillionaire chief executive of Warner Bros. Discovery. He appeared at Boston University’s 150th graduation ceremony to give its commencement speech (unclear who wrote the speech, as his writers are all on strike).
As Zaslav stepped forward to receive an honorary doctorate from the university, he was wildly jeered by students shouting, “Pay your writers!”
When he sought to deliver remarks imparting sagely wisdom on how to succeed, protesters flashed expletive-laden signs, drowning him out with boos and chants for him to go home.
At one point in the speech, he noted the importance of mentors and getting along well with others. “If you want to be successful, you’re going to have to figure out how to get along with everyone, and that includes difficult people. Some people will be looking for a fight,” he said, to a sharp ramp-up of shrill screaming as he spoke the word “fight.”
Overhead, a small aircraft flew a banner that read, “David Zaslav – Pay Your Writers.”
Writers in New York and Los Angeles have been on strike since May 2, after spending six weeks negotiating, in vain, with Disney and Warner Brothers Studios, Netflix, Amazon, Apple, NBC Universal Paramount and Sony, which comprise the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.
Zaslav’s optics issues have not been limited to just the writers’ strike. His company, which also owns television news network CNN, caught flak for hosting a town hall appearance featuring former president Donald Trump on May 10, where Trump reiterated the 2020 U.S. election was rigged, among other highly controversial and untruthful statements.
Trump’s appearance led to widespread public backlash, as well as from some of CNN’s top anchors, such as Christiane Amanpour. She spoke at Columbia Journalism School’s commencement this month, explaining that she strongly disagreed with CNN’s decision to host Trump in a town hall format, calling it an “earthquake.”
Amid the fallout, Zaslav encouraged Republicans to continue to appear on CNN, saying “Republicans are back on the air,” noting he encouraged GOP politicians to appear on the network to improve their showing at the ballot box.
Zaslav’s company is the product of a $43 billion merger last year, where AT&T’s WarnerMedia, CNN, HBO and the Warner Brothers film studio combined with Discovery’s lifestyle and reality entertainment and programming.
How Zaslav handles the next part of his ascent will be noteworthy, especially as he was not speaking idly about his mentors. One of Zaslav’s top backers – and paymasters – is John Malone, a prominent member of the board of the newly formed Warner Bros. Discovery behemoth.
Perhaps more importantly, Malone is the libertarian billionaire chairman of Liberty Media Corp., one of the world’s biggest television and broadband companies. And he has made no secret of the fact he wants to remake media brands such as CNN.
In the lead-up to the Warner Bros. Discovery deal, Malone said in an interview that he thought Fox News had an “interesting trajectory” with “some actual journalism embedded in a program schedule of all opinions.”
Discussing CNN, he said, “I would like to see CNN evolve back to the kind of journalism that it started with, and actually have journalists, which would be unique and refreshing.”
Zaslav and Malone have a long and enduring history together. It is worth watching how Zaslav not only handles the writers’ strike, but also what appears to be the revamp of CNN.