Mr. Zaslav, too, is the last of his kind — the “last tycoon,” his old friend, the former HBO chief executive Richard Plepler, told me. He’s a relentless, fleece-vested mogul who likes to call reporters to talk his own book (and caught me on Tuesday morning in a moment of panic about what I would write this week). He likes to visit his stars at home, and to keep them close. He pals around with Disney’s former chief, Bob Iger, and Mr. Plepler, and others who rose by creating television and films. But those companies are now run by people who come out of other parts of the business — telecommunications or apps or theme parks. He’s a Hamptons mainstay who also holds an annual “boys’ dinner” for 50 of his closest male friends, including Apple’s content chief Eddy Cue and the Netflix co-chief executive Ted Sarandos, in Los Angeles. The dinner is held during a golf tournament to which Discovery holds the television rights.
The smooth start of Discovery+ comes as streamers closer to the heart of the media class are struggling. Apple’s service is off to a slow start. WarnerMedia’s HBO Max has been defined by stumbles. But Discovery remains in an odd position in the media business: The company, which is valued at more than $23 billion, is far smaller than the handful of dominant media and telecommunications conglomerates. But it is too big to be acquired by any but a few companies. There’s a running debate among those who know Mr. Zaslav about whether he’s buying or selling — that is, whether Discovery+ is another move to make the company more attractive for a giant to swallow before the bottom really falls out of the U.S. cable business or whether the company’s current high stock price will prompt Mr. Zaslav to acquire other businesses.
“He should use this opportunity to make his business stronger,” said Mr. Nathanson, the media analyst, who suggested that Discovery “buy CNN.”
Mr. Zaslav, who was involved in the creation of CNBC and MSNBC as an executive at NBC from 1989 to 2006, has begun to play in the global news business. Discovery is an investor in GB News, a right-of-center television challenger to the BBC. In Poland this year, the Discovery-owned channel TVN went dark along with other media outlets to protest the latest government attempt to hobble independent media. Mr. Zaslav said the investments in those channels were part of a strategy to sell streaming services as a bundle with news and sports.
But he said he hadn’t talked to CNN’s president, Jeff Zucker, an East Hampton golf partner, about buying the network from its parent company, ATT, and signaled that he was leery of the political charge that comes with top-shelf American cable news.