Add HBO Max boss Andy Forssell to the list of departing executives in a Tuesday bloodbath at WarnerMedia ahead of the Discovery merger. He joins Ann Sarnoff, Chairman and CEO of WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group, and Jason Kilar, CEO of WarnerMedia.
It’s been rumored that Discovery CEO David Zaslav doesn’t like shifts. Well, three shifts just got exhausted. There are signs the $43 billion merger is likely to go under on Friday.
JB Perrette, President & CEO of Discovery Streaming & International, had been widely speculated to take over the combined direct-to-consumer streaming operation even before Forssell’s exit became official.
We hear that Toby Emmerich, chairman of Warner Bros. Motion Picture Group studios; Channing Dungey, chairman of Warner Bros. Television; HBO Max and HBO Programming Chief Casey Bloys and Warner Bros. COO Carolyn Blackwood are safe for now.
Interestingly, Forssell, Kilar and Sarnoff were part of a gathering with media reporters in October. This was perceived by some as an exit tour for the trio, although Kilar was a mother at the time over his alleged departure. All three banged the drum over the rah-rah of HBO Max as they return to theaters in 2022 that sequels were happening for Dune, whose revenues were siphoned by HBO Max; The picture only makes $108 million in the US.
The biggest surprise here is Sarnoff: Visually, some speculated that having a senior female executive quit would not look good for the new merger; that Sarnoff would be offered any new position under the new regime. Sarnoff’s exit email didn’t provide a solid answer as to why she was leaving, the exec wrote with a host of accomplishments: “It’s never easy stepping into a leadership role, whether at a 96-year-old studio or a newly formed one Business Group, but in both cases I was confident in our success because I was surrounded by some of the brightest, most creative and innovative teams I have ever worked with.”
We’re hearing from sources that given Discovery’s penchant for delays, staying in a reduced role didn’t make sense for Sarnoff. Sarnoff joined Warner Bros. as CEO and then was given oversight of all content across the studios and networks. It just didn’t make sense for Sarnoff to stay.
The departures of the trio of executives follow Project Popcorn, which is a major embarrassment for the studio, both in terms of relationships with talent and a very, very large payoff to talent for maneuvering, not an incremental one 2021 theater schedule, but one that impacted the entire year’s roster, beginning with Wonder Woman 1984. Kilar has announced HBO Max’s worldwide subscriber count has surpassed 73 million. Apparently the new government doesn’t care.
Forssell and Kilar are well known, with the former stepping in as Hulu’s interim CEO after Kilar left the streaming joint venture. During his tenure as an executive at Hulu, Forssell was SVP of content and sales. He developed expertise in what is now the coin of the media world: determining what types of content attract and retain subscribers in the streaming environment. Kilar may have made the ultimate call on “Project Popcorn,” the day-and-date strategy for Warner Bros films, but Forssell has delved into the data on viewers who flocked to HBO Max for releases like Wonder Woman 1984 , and what they watched next and how the service might serve those interests. Both have claimed in interviews that the day-and-date strategy brought subscribers to HBO Max.
Meanwhile, in WarnerMedia’s return to a theatrical window with The Batman, that film has climbed to over $700 million WW and is expected to release April 19 in a 45-day window on HBO Max.
Forssell joined WarnerMedia in 2019 after serving as COO at Otter Media, Peter Chernin’s digital company, which eventually merged into (for the time being) WarnerMedia’s parent company AT&T. He was also COO for another part of Otter’s digital portfolio, Fullscreen.
Deadline has been confirmed by a source close to the matter.
We will update when we receive a statement from WarnerMedia about Forssell.
Variety broke the news of Forssell’s departure.