WarnerMedia cuts 600 jobs as distribution chief Jeffrey Schlesinger departs

Jeffrey Schlesinger

WarnerMedia’s wholesale restructuring has continued with the departure of Warner Bros. distribution chief Jeffrey Schlesinger and Ron Sanders, the company’s EVP of international business operations.

The duo join Warner Bros. Entertainment’s CFO Kim Williams in departing the AT&T-owned firm, with US reports suggesting that around 600 staff across divisions are to be laid off.

The cost-cutting is part of WarnerMedia’s overhaul to focus on streaming, which has already seen Bob Greenblatt, chairman of WarnerMedia Entertainment and direct-to-consumer, departing along with Kevin Reilly, CCO of HBO Max and president of TNT, TBS, and truTV.

Those exits marked the first major changes under newly appointed WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar.

Production & distribution consolidation

The revamp will also see Warner Bros. scripted and unscripted divisions being merged, with Warner Bros. TV and cable counterpart Warner Horizon Scripted TV brought together.

It will be headed up by Susan Rovner and Brett Paul – who had overseen Warner Bros. TV and Warner Horizon – on the scripted side, with Mike Darnell overseeing unscripted.

The duo report into Warner Bros. TV Group chairman Peter Roth, with the restructuring also removing the role of EVP of Telepictures. As a result, Donna Linsk will depart, according to US reports.

Jason Kilar

The cuts comes as WarnerMedia looks to roll streamer HBO Max around the world, with the company recently acquiring a raft of international programming ahead of its expansion.

Johannes Larcher, MD of Middle East streamer Shahid, will also join this month to oversee the streamer’s global growth strategy.

Hollywood bracing for change

The changes are the latest major restructuring announced by US studios over recent weeks, with Comcast-owned NBCUniversal recently starting the process of laying off around 3,000 staff as it puts its focus on streaming.

Schlesinger had been president of worldwide TV distribution since 2013 and had been with Warner Bros. for almost four decades, with his most recent remit covering sales of Warner, HBO and Turner shows to all platforms globally.

“It’s been a great 37 year run, with 26 as president of International Television Distribution, spanning six mergers, millions of miles traveled, thousands of programs sold and billions of dollars generated,” Schlesinger said.

“In the end, it took a global pandemic and a complete reorganisation of the company for me to trip over the last hurdle. I hope to always be remembered as the only studio executive to ride into an International Screenings party at the studio on the back of an elephant in the ‘good old days’.”

Sanders, who was president of worldwide theatrical distribution & EVP of international business operations, had been with the company almost 30 year, while Williams oversaw all finances for Warner Bros. Entertainment.

Warner Bros. chair and CEO Ann Sarnoff, the former BBC Studios exec who was recently promoted at the US studios, added: “Jeff, Ron and Kim are all highly valued members of my senior leadership team, and we will be forever grateful for the many meaningful and lasting contributions each of them has made to Warner Bros.”

Sarnoff’s new role sees her leading a new studios and networks group, which combines original production and programming for its movies and TV output.

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