Amazon had tapped WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar to run its burgeoning media empire, but he turned it down

  • AT&T announced plans to merge WarnerMedia with Discovery on Monday, with Discovery’s CEO to be its top exec.
  • That leaves the future uncertain for Jason Kilar, who became WarnerMedia CEO last May.
  • Kilar had declined an offer to run Amazon’s growing media empire, a source tells Insider.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

In recent days, WarnerMedia’s CEO Jason Kilar has gone from one of the most powerful executives in media to maybe one of its unluckiest.

Before accepting the position as head of AT&T’s media division in 2020, he was courted by Amazon to run its own media division, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter. Kilar said he was offered the job but turned it down, according to this person.

That position at Amazon ultimately went to Mike Hopkins, the former chairman of Sony Pictures Television and previously the CEO of Hulu. (Hopkins and Kilar have some history: Hopkins became CEO of Hulu after Kilar stepped down from the role in 2013.)

Kilar’s decision to rebuff the Amazon role in favor of WarnerMedia may have put him in a perilous position. On Monday, AT&T announced an agreement to sell WarnerMedia to Discovery — one year after Kilar started — with Discovery CEO David Zaslav running the proposed joint venture. AT&T said that Kilar would maintain his title as WarnerMedia CEO, but The New York Times reported on Monday that he was working with attorneys to exit his agreement with the company.

Meanwhile, as AT&T offloads its entertainment holdings, Amazon appears to be deepening its commitment into the sector. The Seattle company is in talks to acquire the movie studio MGM, according to a person familiar with the matter. The Information was first to report on the acquisition talks; Variety later reported that Amazon discussed paying $9 billion for the legendary Hollywood studio, which owns movie franchises like “James Bond” and “Rocky” and television series like “Shark Tank,” “Survivor,” and “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

Representatives for Amazon and WarnerMedia did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Kilar did not respond to an email requesting comment. 

If Amazon’s MGM deal goes through, it would mark one of the tech giant’s highest-priced deals ever, second only to its 2017 acquisition of Whole Foods for $13.7 billion. It would also be a major escalation of its efforts to build a media empire. Since Amazon began streaming movies to Prime members more than a decade ago, it has taken ambitious steps to produce or distribute movies like “Manchester by the Sea” and “Sound of Metal,” and series like “The Boys” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”

The company has recently focused on its free, ad-supported streaming service IMDb TV, and has bought the exclusive rights to stream reruns like “Mad Men” in addition to producing some original shows.

While Amazon’s relationship with the entertainment industry has been rocky at times, buying MGM would be the clearest sign yet that, unlike AT&T, it’s in it for the long haul. The deal to buy the studio is reportedly being led by Hopkins, according to Variety.

Another sign Amazon is taking Hollywood more seriously: It recently hired back Jeff Blackburn, a longtime Amazon executive, to be Hopkins’ boss and head up all of its entertainment assets. Blackburn’s previous remit also included being the head of Amazon’s video division, before taking a year-long sabbatical at the end of 2019. Amazon announced his return last week after he worked for a brief stint at a venture capital firm.  

Blackburn’s new responsiblities at Amazon also includes podcasts, its gaming unit, and streaming service Twitch. MGM’s potentially joining the mix sets up Amazon to be an even more formidable presence in entertainment.

Eugene Kim contributed reporting.

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