With its deal to acquire Time Warner greenlit, AT&T has assembled a new leadership team to compete in the hypercompetitive media arena.
AT&T acquired Time Warner last year, renaming it WarnerMedia and appointing AT&T veteran John Stankey as CEO. But the company continued to fight a long legal battle with the U.S. Justice Department, which tried to block the deal. In late February the Justice Department conceded, allowing the $85 billion acquisition – the biggest media industry deal in nearly a decade – to move forward. This sets AT&T up to compete as a giant in both telecommunications and media-entertainment.
Stankey has wasted no time in forming a leadership team to launch WarnerMedia into the arena. On March 4, long-time media executive Robert Greenblatt, a former head of entertainment at NBC and Showtime, was named Chairman of WarnerMedia, which includes HBO, the Warner Bros., and Turner, home of CNN, TNT, TBS and other cable channels. This combines oversight of these network groups, and puts an executive from outside the company at the head of HBO for the first time in four decades.
Stankey considers Greenblatt uniquely qualified, since he has experience as a mainstream broadcaster and as a programmer of premium cable content. “There aren’t that many people who have both,” Stankey said. “He’s got the right track record.”
Forming the new leadership team has also involved reshuffling some media executives. CNN chief Jeff Zucker is taking on the expanded role of Chairman of WarnerMedia News & Sports, while continuing as President of CNN. Kevin Tsujihara will continue as Chairman and CEO of Warner Bros., but oversee a bigger portfolio including a new global kids and young adults business. Gerhard Zeiler, President of Turner International, will become Chief Revenue Officer of WarnerMedia. Former HBO Chairman Richard Plepler and former Turner President David Levy have left the company.
As the New York Times points out, both of AT&T’s core businesses are facing upheaval as tech companies like Amazon, Netflix, Apple, Google and Facebook have become dominant players in the media industry, both in entertainment and distribution.
Stankey will continue to focus on AT&T’s competition with traditional rivals Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint, but the company now has a stronger hand, as it can offer service plans along with content like “Game of Thrones” and 24-hour news. AT&T is especially keen to enter the streaming business, and plans to launch its WarnerMedia streaming service this year. As head of Direct-to-Consumer, Greenblatt will lead this new business, which will compete with Netflix, Amazon and others.
In a statement, Greenblatt said, “I’m honored to be joining WarnerMedia during such an exciting time for the company and the industry as a whole, and I look forward to working alongside the many talented executives and team members across the company.”