Warner Bros. Discovery and rival Paramount Global are in early merger talks, sources familiar with the matter told CNBC.
Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav and Paramount CEO Bob Bakish met Tuesday to discuss the contours of a possible deal, said the sources, who declined to be named becuase the talks are private. The discussions are preliminary, and a deal may not materialize.
Warner Bros. Discovery and Paramount declined to comment.
The news comes as speculation about Paramount’s future heats up. Controlling shareholder Shari Redstone is reportedly eager to make a deal. Redstone controls Paramount through her company National Amusements. Recently, Redstone held talks with David Ellison’s Skydance, which is backed by Gerry Cardinale’s investment firm RedBird, according to people familiar with the matter.
Paramount, whose assets include its namesake movie studio as well as broadcast network CBS, is carrying a hefty debt load, as well.
Meanwhile, Warner Bros. Discovery, the result of a merger between Warner Media and Discovery, has been slashing costs and attacking its debt levels under Zaslav. The company has since said its streaming business has become profitable while other streamers, outside of leader Netflix, try to reverse losses.
Last month, Zaslav and Liberty Media’s John Malone, a Warner Bros. Discovery shareholder and board member, appeared to indicate that the company was preparing to become a buyer within the next year or two. The broader media industry is widely considered ripe for consolidation. Media executives are worried, however, that President Joe Biden’s administration could be hostile to a big media merger.
Warner Bros. Discovery is approaching the second anniversary of its 2022 merger. That’s a key benchmark for Reverse Morris Trust tax reasons. It means that Warner Bros. Discovery can do another significant deal two years after the close of the previous merger.
There’s also speculation within the industry that Warner Bros. Discovery could end up in merger talks with Comcast’s NBCUniversal. (NBCUniversal is the parent company of NBC News.)
Axios previously reported the Paramount-Warner Bros. Discovery talks. Warner Bros. Discovery’s stock fell more than 5% Wednesday after the news broke, while Paramount shares bounced a little off their lows.