The DOJ lost its appeal to derail the AT&T-Time Warner merger on Tuesday, but apparently AT&T wasn’t done making waves this week.
In the span of a few minutes on Thursday afternoon, news broke that two of WarnerMedia’s (the renamed Time Warner’s) top execs were exiting in a major AT&T shakeup: HBO chairman and CEO Richard Plepler and Turner president David Levy will both be leaving the company.
Shortly after the DOJ lost its appeal to break up AT&T’s $85 billion purchase of Time Warner, reports started circulating that WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey has been in talks with former NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt about a new role in which he would oversee Turner, HBO and AT&T’s upcoming streaming service from WarnerMedia, which is set to launch this fall.
Plepler’s and Levy’s exits would seem to confirm those consolidation plans. Until now, HBO and Turner had always been separate entities.
Plepler informed staff of his decision in a memo.
“Hard as it is to think about leaving the company I love, and the people I love in it, it is the right time for me to do so,” he wrote. “It has been the great joy of my professional life to share this ride with you over these many years. And the great honor of my professional life to be your CEO. … We’ve created a great and unique enterprise and I know that you will protect its legacy and do all to enhance its future in the years to come.”
Meanwhile, Levy is also leaving, according to reports, though Turner did not immediately comment Thursday night.
UPDATE: Levy confirmed his exit Friday morning, in a memo to staff. “I am ready for a professional change,” he wrote. “I am confident that you all will show that true maverick spirit this company was founded on to march forward and continue the standard of excellence we have built and enjoyed.”
Plepler started at HBO in 1992 and helped build the network into a premium-content powerhouse, becoming CEO in 2013. He created an OTT offering, HBO Now, at a time when the industry was still wary about the prospects of streaming services.
By being so aggressive with HBO Now, “we’ve put the lie to the idea that the pie couldn’t get bigger,” Plepler said in 2017. “We have seen less than 1 percent cannibalization of our core business. … We were even more right than we imagined.”
One of Plepler’s mantras at HBO was that “culture eats strategy for breakfast,” he said in 2017. “You can have the greatest strategy in the world, but if your culture is unhealthy, if there isn’t transparency, if there isn’t an environment of dissent where people can speak their mind, you’re going to fail, because the velocity of change is too great.”
Levy joined Turner in 1986. He assumed executive leadership of Turner Sports in 2003 and when he was promoted to Turner president a decade later, decided to upend the company’s longtime strategy of providing “broadcast replacement shows” to advertisers and hired Kevin Reilly to overhaul TNT and TBS, he told Adweek in 2016.
“You have to keep innovating in this business, and if you don’t, you’re going to be left behind, or not be around for that long,” Levy said at the time. “This is the most exciting time to be in the media business and the scariest time; there’s just so much change going on. The winners are going to be the ones who have the strong brands and have adapted to the new world.”