Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav was met with boos and jeers from the audience during his commencement speech at Boston University on Sunday amidst the ongoing Hollywood writers strike.
As Zaslav discussed his career journey and his ascent to the position of WBD’s president, picketers and members of the audience erupted into chants such as “pay your writers!” The crowd shouted phrases like “we don’t want you here!” and “shut up Zaslav!” in protest while he continued to speak.
In his address, Zaslav offered advice to the students, stating that “some individuals may seek confrontation, but it’s important not to be the one they engage with.” This statement sparked a mixture of boos and cheers from the audience. He then shared a tip he had received from the late General Electric CEO Jack Welch, encouraging students to “focus on the positive qualities of others.”
Zaslav getting hit with a Pay Your Writers chant in Boston. This is so good. pic.twitter.com/00pL4ahAqZ— Mike Scollins (@mikescollins) May 21, 2023
During the conclusion of his speech, Zaslav shared advice with the students, urging them to “discover their strengths” and “be there for their friends.” However, as he wrapped up, audience members expressed their discontent by shouting obscenities at him.
Throughout his speech, Zaslav chose not to directly address the ongoing strike, although his closing remarks, “I hope to see all of you — and I mean all of you — along the way. The journey of life. There’s nothing better,” could have been directed towards the picketers and protesters.
In response to the protests, Zaslav released a statement to The Washington Post on Sunday afternoon. He expressed gratitude to his alma mater, Boston University, for inviting him to speak at the commencement and bestowing upon him an honorary degree. He also reiterated his support for writers, emphasizing his hope for a swift and fair resolution to the strike that acknowledges their value.
No immediate comment was received from Boston University when requested.
The Writers Guild of America, which declared the strike on May 2, issued a statement on Sunday, interpreting the crowd’s reaction as a “clear” message.
“In a statement, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) emphasized the need for Zaslav and other company leaders to engage in negotiations that tackle the significant challenges faced by WGA members. The objective is to create an agreement that enables both established and aspiring writers to build and sustain careers in content creation, which is crucial for the companies’ revenue and profitability.
Following the confirmation that the CEO of WBD would deliver a commencement speech at the university, the WGA announced its intention to stage a picket during the ceremony.
The strike by movie and TV screenwriters was initiated after discussions with producers reached an impasse. The WGA is advocating for improved compensation, updated contracts in the era of streaming content, and safeguards against the use of AI-generated material. This work stoppage has already had an impact on the entertainment industry, leading to the suspension of television and film productions.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, the guild stated in a released statement, ‘Writers Guild members are participating in the strike because companies, including Warner Bros. Discovery, have refused to guarantee a minimum level of weekly employment for episodic television, attempted to switch late night writers to a day rate, obstructed discussions on providing compensation for script revisions, and declined to address our proposal regarding the existential threat posed by AI to all writers.'”
The request for comment from the WGA was not immediately answered.
Zaslav has previously expressed his views on the writers’ strike, stating in an interview with CNBC in early May that the presence of talented writers is crucial for effective storytelling. He emphasized the importance of fair compensation for everyone, including writers, and expressed a desire to resolve the situation.
During an appearance on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on May 5, Zaslav urged for a resolution that would make writers feel valued and adequately compensated. He emphasized the need to collaborate and create exceptional narratives together.
Zaslav believes that resolving the conflict between writers and producers will require more than just time. He emphasized that the shared passion for storytelling and the desire to make a cultural impact initially drew people into the entertainment industry. He acknowledged the sacrifices made by many individuals in pursuit of that shared journey and expressed optimism that this common ground would ultimately bring everyone together.