In a follow-up to its 2021 report “Broken Promises: Media Mega Mergers and the Case for Antitrust Reform,” the Writers Guild of America West has issued a bulletin on the fallout of last year’s WarnerMedia/Discovery merger, resulting in Warner Bros. Discovery and major content purging and cancellations for HBO Max. Many animated favorites and highly anticipated projects were among the titles axed for tax write downs to help pay off the estimated $4.1 -5.3 billion restructure.
“Warner-Discovery is the latest disastrous merger to demonstrate the harms of consolidation, and particularly the threat to diversity when gatekeepers combine to increase their power,” said WGAW Director of Research and Public Policy Laura Blum-Smith. “Almost immediately after closing, Warner Bros. Discovery broke the hollow promises it had made of merger benefits. As a result, writers — including many women and people of color — have lost opportunities and future income, while consumers are left with reduced variety and choice of content.”
WGAW points out that going into the merger, Warner and Discovery said it would “allow the new company to invest in more original content and create more opportunity for underrepresented storytellers.” But in less than a year, Warner Bros. Discovery has laid off hundreds of workers and jettisoned $2 billion in content.
One of the content creators adding their voice to the new Broken Promises bulletin is Lisa Hanawalt, whose acclaimed animated series Tuca & Bertie was confirmed canceled in November after three seasons.
“I originally created Tuca & Bertie for Netflix, but when they cancelled it after just one season, we fought to get the series picked up at Warner’s Adult Swim network,” Hanawalt shared. “The women-led series had been a cult hit and a critical darling — the Warner execs knew it needed advertising support and time to grow viewers in the male-dominated adult animation space.
“But the merger went through right before the most recent season launched, and almost everyone who worked on the Tuca & Bertie marketing team was laid off. Then, several of the show’s main executives at Adult Swim and HBO Max left in the turmoil. Planned marketing projects to promote the new season didn’t happen. Then we learned the show had been cancelled.
“It’s already harder for shows centered on women, and this merger cost us the support we needed to thrive.”
Tuca & Bertie premiered on Netflix in 2019 and was then picked up by Warner’s Adult Swim for seasons two and three (2021-2022). Boasting a 99% critics’ rating and 83% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, the show recently received nominations from the Writers Guild of America Awards (Animation) and 50th Annie Awards (Best TV/Media-Mature, Best Writing-TV/Media) for the S3 episode “The Pain Garden,” written by Hanawalt. The series previously won the Annie for TV writing in 2020 (Shauna McGarry) and the WGA Award for Animation in 2022.
The bulleting points out that without government intervention and the return of antitrust protections in the U.S., the trend of massive company mergers “will likely continue until it leaves just three or four companies controlling all content,” to the detriment of both creators and consumers.
Congressman Joaquin Castro (– San Antonio) commented on the WGA report, “These telling accounts from TV writers confirm that this merger undermines hard-fought progress to build an entertainment industry that reflects the American public. Antitrust regulators must do more to prevent mergers of this magnitude from stomping out competition. We need to protect consumers, workers and content creators from the harmful effects of media consolidation.”
In August of last year, 400 members of the Writers Guild signed the “WGA Animation Pledge,” committing to fight for WGA coverage of all animation projects. The Guild’s board of directors also set up an Animation Writers Organizing Committee in support of this mission to secure better protections for writers working in animation.