The Secret Power Behind Zazworld

Steven Newhouse
Photo by Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty
William D. Cohan
February 16, 2022

The conventional wisdom has it that John Malone—or Dr. John Malone as he is referred to in public securities filings, presumably because of his Ph.D. in operations research from Johns Hopkins University—is the power behind David Zaslav’s throne, and that Malone will be the man pulling Zaslav’s strings as he prepares to take control of Hollywood’s latest flashy toy, Warner Bros. Discovery. And that might make some sense, at least in a New York-L.A. parlor game sort of way. 

Malone, a multi-billionaire, was one of the pioneers in the cable industry and he remains a powerhouse through his various Liberty Media entities. He and Zaslav have been friends for decades, dating back to when Zaslav was an executive at GE, which then owned NBC, and he and Tom Rogers and Bob Wright and Jack Welch wanted to create what became CNBC. Zaslav’s first stop back then was to see Malone, in Colorado, to get his support for the new channel and to make sure that Ted Turner and CNN—Malone was a big backer of Turner and his cable news creation—had no intention of creating a competing business network. (He didn’t.) And, of course, Malone is also a member of Zaslav’s board of directors at Discovery and one of that company’s largest shareholders, with an economic stake equal to around 1 percent and a voting stake equal to around 20 percent. He has been an important mentor to Zaslav over the years, and one of his most enthusiastic backers.