Update, August 25, 2022: The Incredibly Shrinking Warner Bros. Discovery Tour is going global. The David Zaslav–led media giant confirmed Thursday to Vulture that an expected retreat from its previous strategy of making European originals specifically for streaming has begun, resulting in several key execs throughout the continent losing their jobs. HBO Max will still have original programming from outside the United States, but it will instead be produced in conjunction with local platforms with the intent to eventually stream on Max. Overall, about 30 European staffers will leave the company as the changes play out over the next 15 months, according to Deadline, which first reported the layoffs.
Original story published August 15, 2022, follows.
An expected wave of substantial layoffs has started crashing through Warner Bros. Discovery, with HBO Max, overseen by chief content officer Casey Bloys, losing around 70 staffers Monday — about 14 percent of its team. As speculated in numerous publications, the streamer’s reality and live-action family-originals divisions will be all but eliminated as part of a restructuring spurred by the cost-cutting moves. But as Vulture first reported last week, Max head of original content Sarah Aubrey is staying with the platform and will continue working on a robust content slate, though her portfolio will evolve to focus on dramas and international programming.
From the moment Discovery Networks announced its plan to acquire the former WarnerMedia, industry insiders have been predicting substantial layoffs as a result of overlapping divisions within the two companies. That became even more likely last spring, when the newly formed company announced it was planning to combine HBO Max and Discovery+ into a single platform. Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav’s stated intention to slash more than $3 billion in spending has only intensified the pressure to make staff cuts, and the result has been months of speculation about which departments would get hit hardest.
Because Discovery is a leader in unscripted series — and Discovery+ is hyperfocused on reality shows — HBO Max’s unscripted unit has long been expected to basically disappear, and that’s essentially what is happening as of today. While the type of reality programming HBO Max made under unscripted chief Jen O’Connell (Legendary, FBoy Island) is different from what’s on Discovery+, company brass likely decided the platform didn’t need two sets of development execs. (Current unscripted shows, including ones in production that haven’t premiered yet, will not be immediately impacted by today’s moves.) The decision to dismantle the live-action young-adult team, meanwhile, seems driven more by pure cost cutting and the fact that HBO historically has never been hyperfocused on family comedies and dramas (though it does serve younger viewers with Sesame Street and shows from the Cartoon Network).
There will be one big change to Aubrey’s role at HBO Max: She will lose oversight of Max original comedies while taking on shared supervision of international programming in conjunction with the Warner Bros. Discovery International team. While HBO Max executive VP of content Joey Chavez is staying on and will continue to work on drama with Aubrey, veteran comedy exec Suzanna Makkos will now be part of the HBO comedy team overseen by HBO executive VP Amy Gravitt. Given how similar HBO and HBO Max comedies have been since Max’s 2020 launch, the moves are unlikely to result in major changes to what appears on the platform. Warner Bros. Discovery execs have gone out of their way in recent weeks to rebut reports predicting a substantial reduction in HBO Max scripted programming, and the fact that Aubrey, Chavez, and Makkos are staying would seem to counter the narrative that the streamer is getting ready to substantially scale back its scripted offerings.
Other changes in the HBO Max team will mostly affect support departments. The HBO Max casting unit, for example, is being eliminated, with casting directors for individual shows now charged with finding their own talent. That mirrors the way HBO proper has operated for years. And with most studios in Hollywood keeping the biggest assets in their content libraries for themselves — particularly the first windows for theatrical presentations — HBO Max’s content-acquisition team is being scaled back and will focus on maintaining existing output deals.