|One recent morning, I was sitting in my office trying to do about three or four things at once—scan the news, review Puck’s latest subscriber numbers, keep up with our email open rates, and compile some data for our executive team—when my eye glanced away from my laptop screen and toward my iPhone. Dylan Byers was texting me that he had a lead on a fresh new reporting angle about CNN, the veritable beat that he manifested into existence some fifteen months ago around the time of Jeff Zucker’s ill-advised ouster, an extended employee grievance session, and the appointment of Chris Licht as C.E.O. He’d gotten a tip that bankers were making calls, and ginning up potential interest in a putative sale.
Was CNN actually for sale? No, of course it wasn’t: not now, not quite, not officially, especially after all the sturm und drang surrounding the Licht defenestration. But things aren’t always so binary in dealmaking. Back in 2001, after all, AT&T wasn’t considering selling its vaunted broadband unit until Comcast C.E.O. Brian Roberts put forward a $72 billion offer that was too good to refuse. I think about the merger often since one of JP Morgan Chase’s M&A bankers on the deal was a whippersnapper named William D. Cohan, now Puck’s peerless founding partner and Wall Street eminence.
Dylan and I went back and forth over text for a beat, and I suggested that he reach out to Bill, the most well-sourced guy on Wall Street, to see if he was hearing anything on his end. As it turned out, Bill was also tracking down the story from a separate vantage point: According to his sourcing, CNN was indeed a subject of conversation at the highest altitudes of Wall Street M&A circles.
Quickly, we hopped on a three-way call and envisioned a collaboration that delineated the various and serendipitous realities of their reporting. Of course, given the complexity of the players and motivations, a fascinating picture emerged. After a frigid year in the M&A trenches, bankers were thirsting for deal flow and motivated to find buyers for premium assets, especially pristine ones like CNN. Meanwhile, Warner Bros. Discovery C.E.O. David Zaslav has found himself in a race to service his company’s $45 billion in debt (WBD is an L.B.O. by another name) and might be more susceptible than ever to contemplating a CNN spin.
In fact, as a fiduciary, it’s his responsibility to consider such deals. So while a deal wasn’t imminent in any sort of way, both Dylan and Bill’s reporting suggested that a logic for it was becoming abundantly clear—too clear, in fact, to avoid. I highly recommend setting aside some time to read their story, Is Zaz Ready to Enter CNN Deal Mode?, which lays out the nuances and complexity of managing a scaled entertainment media company in the modern public markets, amid the current interest and regulatory environment, managing the dual pressures of supporting a historic news division while placating uppity shareholders. What does the future hold for CNN? It’s the story of our time, and we’ll be following Zaz’s industrial logic every step of the way.
Meanwhile, if you only have time to read one piece this weekend, I’d like to make an extra suggestion. I entered the professional ranks as an assistant to an assistant, which used to be how many of us older millennials entered the salt mines of creative businesses a couple decades ago. So you’ll have to understand that I’m always susceptible to stories about the complex relationships between underlings and their bosses, especially when money and egos and spouses are involved.
Well, my partner Eriq Garder has hit the motherlode in De Niro and the Nastiest Legal Assistant Saga Ever, which charts the gruesome court fight between the legendary actor and his former aide over millions of Delta SkyMiles, accusations of betrayal, eye-opening texts and emails and a $6 million lawsuit. It might not quite be the story of our time, but it will certainly serve as some light beach reading.
Have a great weekend,