He ran Animal Planet and HGTV. Now he’ll oversee WarnerMedia. Who’s David Zaslav?

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David Zaslav was at a crossroads in 2007.

After spending 18 years at NBC, the place he helped develop a cable portfolio that included CNBC and MSNBC, Zaslav had a proposal to run Discovery Networks, the house of documentaries, nature exhibits and Shark Week.

The corporate’s packages had as soon as been a favourite of cable system operators, who pointed to them every time they wanted to assuage faculty boards and native authorities officers indignant over racy music movies on MTV and R-rated movies on HBO. However that picture was much less significant because the cable enterprise matured.

“It was not the shiniest object on the block on the time,” recalled Tom Rogers, Zaslav’s pal and former boss at NBC.

Nonetheless, Rogers urged him to take the job at Discovery’s earlier dwelling base in Silver Spring, Md., not precisely a present enterprise hub.

“I stated, ‘David, completely. You’ll have a platform that you could develop,’” Rogers stated.

What Rogers knew and others have realized since is that Zaslav, 61, prides himself on being a relentless change agent.

He remodeled Discovery from a distinct segment TV service to the most important purveyor of nonfiction programming, creating new channels and franchises, increasing its attain internationally and seamlessly absorbing different fashionable cable TV manufacturers such because the Meals Community and HGTV when it acquired Scripps Networks in 2018 in a $12-billion deal.

The corporate’s worth grew from $5 billion to almost $22 billion over that point.

Zaslav’s success made him one of many highest paid chief executives of a publicly traded U.S. firm (in 2018, he earned a staggering $129.4 million on account of the Scripps deal).

However he nonetheless has the drive and need to navigate the treacherous terrain of the leisure trade’s future as overseer of a newly merged entity that might put Discovery Networks and WarnerMedia and belongings equivalent to HBO, Warner Bros. Studios, CNN, TLC — the house of “90 Day Fiancé” — and HGTV’s “Fixer Higher” beneath one roof. The belongings can be folded into a brand new publicly commerce firm owned by AT&T and Discovery.

The businesses formally introduced the $43-billion merger, which is topic to regulatory approval, on Monday.

“I’m so excited, however that is actually surreal, and simply getting it over the end line,” Zaslav advised The Instances. “It’s such a historic firm and an amazing set of belongings, and it matches so effectively with what we’ve constructed over the past 15 years that I’ve been at Discovery.”

Zaslav is understood for being energetic and protracted. He doesn’t quit simply.

A yr after he took the job at Discovery, Zaslav took discover of how his spouse, Pam, was absorbed within the uplifting tales she learn in O Journal, the publication based by Oprah Winfrey.

Zaslav determined that his sleepy media firm wanted somebody of Winfrey’s stature to spice up its profile.

So Zaslav doggedly pursued Winfrey, touring to her Chicago headquarters. He did one thing unprecedented on the time: In 2008, he supplied Winfrey 50% possession of one among Discovery’s small channels, and so they ultimately rebranded it OWN: Oprah Winfrey Community.

The community floundered in its early years, however Zaslav caught with OWN till it discovered its method as probably the most fashionable cable channels for ladies ages 25 to 54.

Zaslav’s persistence with Winfrey got here from a deep perception in respecting expertise. He believes that WarnerMedia shares that worth.

“This can be a enterprise constructed on relationships,” Zaslav stated. “And I’m sufficiently old to do not forget that after I began out, in the event you may spend time with anybody within the enterprise, you’d need to spend time with [Time Warner founder] Steve Ross. He was the man who gave folks the liberty to inform the tales they needed to inform. He created a variety of worth for Warner Bros. He actually set the usual for the way these companies ought to be run.”

However those that work for Zaslav have to be correctly caffeinated always. He begins his day in New York earlier than 5 a.m. Jap, and he could have a convention name on a Sunday if he believes it’s obligatory.

He introduced that type of urgency to the event and January launch of Discovery’s streaming service, Discovery+, which was seen as important to setting the corporate up for the long run and key to creating it a sexy merger accomplice.

Zaslav comes from humble roots in Brooklyn and the New York Metropolis suburbs. He graduated from Binghamton College, a state faculty in New York state, after which acquired his regulation diploma at Boston College.

He’s recognized to be a loyal household man with three grown kids, together with daughter Ali Zaslav, who works as a producer at CNN, which can change into a part of the merged firm.

Final yr, David Zaslav acquired the three,900-square-foot Beverly Hills mansion that was dwelling to the late film mogul Robert Evans (“The Godfather,” “Chinatown”), telling buddies he needed to spend extra time in Los Angeles.

Filmmaker Steven Spielberg, who has been buddies with Zaslav for years, welcomes his arrival.

“This can be a excellent function for David, as he has that uncommon capacity to deftly mix the science of a world conglomerate with the alchemy of the artistic arts,” Spielberg stated. “I’m sure he’ll foster an setting for his storytellers to take some very large swings, and whereas Amblin’s house is — and can at all times be — at Common and Comcast, I sit up for being a kind of storytellers in my movie and tv collaborations along with his groups sooner or later.”

Whereas Zaslav has wealth and fancy movie star buddies — his annual summer season bash within the Hamptons is a coveted invite amongst New York’s media set — his important wardrobe piece is a sleeveless Patagonia vest, often seen with the logos of one among his networks on it.

Rogers says it probably developed from Zaslav’s days having to woo cable operator to hold NBC’s channels. “He would put the community on something,” Rogers stated. “He actually favored tchotchkes.”

When the title of the newly merged Uncover-WarnerMedia entity is offered subsequent week, count on it to point out up on Zaslav’s vest.

“There was a time after I used to put on Patagonia garments, however that was earlier than I met David and surrendered because it grew to become clear I had neither the quantity nor selection to out-vest him,” Spielberg.

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