Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) is in the process of making deep cuts across Europe, with the originals division led by HBO Max EMEA chief Antony Root set to be closed by the end of the year, TBI understands.
Root, who became EVP & head of original production for WarnerMedia EMEA in 2021, will see most roles within his team disappear as WBD extends its attempts to find “synergy” savings of $3bn following the $40bn merger.
The changes will affect both scripted and unscripted teams across Europe, with the future of teams in France and Spain also unclear, despite the two countries escaping the recent cuts to original production.
TBI understands that discussions are now underway with affected staff, a number of whom joined on contracts following the launch of HBO Max by WarnerMedia in 2020.
Some are understood to have agreed imminent exit dates while other roles will run until the end of the year, with a number of shows commissioned by the HBO Max team only just starting production and others not yet announced. However, it is believed that the entire team under Root will be gone, or in alternative positions within WBD, by early 2023.
Teams in France and Spain are also understood to be affected but they will find out their futures in September, when a defined structure will be confirmed.
The move to essentially disband the entire division comes after WBD confirmed that original productions would be brought to an end across the Nordics, Central Europe, the Netherlands and Turkey.
TBI then revealed that the global expansion of HBO Max had been stopped, with a roll-out in France abruptly halted last month. Instead, the country is to receive a combined HBO Max and Discovery+ streamer, which is in the works. A launch date has not been revealed.
Shock as synergy bites
The decision will raise eyebrows across the European and global industry, not least because Root – whose future is unclear – and many of his team are highly regarded, having been behind a raft of hit shows during the expansion of both HBO Max and HBO Europe before it.
Since the exec took control of HBO Europe almost a decade ago, and more recently in his time as HBO Max EMEA originals chief, series to have emerged have ranged from Czech drama Pustina (aka Wasteland) and Romania’s Umbre, to recent Swedish comedy Lust, Hungarian drama The Informant and Denmark’s Kamikaze.
Unscripted had also been a focus, with shows such as One True Singer from Romania.
Root’s current team includes VP & commissioning editor of original production for Central Europe and the equivalent position in the Nordics, held by Johnathan Young and Christian Wikander respectively, as well as head of unscripted production at WarnerMedia EMEA, Annelies Sitvast.
Several roles have only recently been filled, with Mia Edde becoming executive director of content acquisition for Turkey, while others are legacy from HBO Europe. These include the Europe-wide docs role, held by the highly regarded Hanka Kastelicová, who has been with HBO for more than a decade, and VP of drama development, held by Steve Matthews.
The legacy Discovery business and WBD’s FTA networks are believed to be unaffected.
Next 12 months
It marks a startling about-turn by WBD, with HBO Max talking up its extensive originals strategy only three months ago at Series Mania in France.
Since then, the WBD merger closed, with Discovery CEO David Zaslav taking the helm. Fellow Discovery alum JB Perrette was installed as CEO & president of global streaming in April, with the factual giant’s Leah Hooper named as regional streaming chief. Jason Monteiro is in the same role for APAC, Juan Sola for Lat Am, and Michael Bishara for North America.
Those appointments saw Alessandro Araimo (Italy, Spain and Portugal), Pierre Branco (France, Benelux & Africa), Jamie Cooke (CEE, Baltics, Middle East, Mediterranean & Turkey) Hannes Heyelmann (Germany, Austria & Switzerland) and Antonio Ruiz (UK & Ireland) handed remits across streaming, sport, US programming, studio operations and networks.
Root retained his responsibilities for original production for HBO Max across EMEA at that time, as well as original production for the Warner Media general entertainment channels in Germany, France and Spain.
Christina Sulebakk has been appointed to lead WBD in the Nordics, having previously been GM of HBO Max across Europe, while Vanessa Brookman remains as SVP of kids & family for EMEA, reporting into Michael Ouweleen, who leads Cartoon Network, Adult Swim and Boomerang in the US.
Industry sources suggest a similar structure could be created across WBD’s operations, with European execs reporting directly into their US counterparts.
Whether that is the case or not, the cuts indicate the reduced importance WBD is placing on local originals in some markets.
It also reflects the intense pressure the company is facing as it looks to slash costs following the WarnerMedia and Discovery merger, with its share price tumbling from $25.50 at launch in April to $14.50 today.
Yesterday, WBD confirmed eight US communications exec were also departing, all having previously worked on the WarnerMedia side. They join a number of senior execs to have left, with European exits including Sylvia Rothblum, who oversaw Germany, Austria and Switzerland for WarnerMedia and Susanne Aigner, who was SVP & GM for Germany, Switzerland, Austria & Benelux at Discovery.
WarnerMedia’s Italian and Iberian chief Thomas Ciampais has also departed, along with Lydia Fairfax, SVP of commercial partnerships in EMEA for Discovery, and David Fisher, VP of advance advertising for Discovery. HBO Max’s international chief Johannes Larcher has also gone, with the streamer’s Latin America GM among others.
Sarah Lyons, who had been EVP of direct to consumer, global product for WarnerMedia, has also left, along with Warner’s UK chief Polly Cochrane and kids topper Tom Ascheim. There have been deals cut with existing execs, however, too. Just this week, Casey Bloys, chief content officer for HBO and HBO Max, inked a new five-year contract.
WBD declined to comment for this piece.