Is WarnerMedia Draining Talent Or Melding Content?

AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner may appear in the rear-view window. It isn't.

Big-time media deals are always accompanied by disruption. Major talent has changed, and that might not be completely good news.

While the hiring of ex-NBC-er Robert Greenblatt to chairman of WarnerMedia Entertainment and Direct-to-Consumer may have some upside, the downside is longtime HBO and Turner executives Richard Plepler and David Levy, respectively are departing.

Craig Moffett and Michael Nathanson of MoffettNathanson Research write:

“The departures of David Levy and Richard Plepler speak directly to the worst-case scenario for WarnerMedia: a talent exodus. There is nothing more critical in a media company than talent and the personal relationships that talent brings.”

Greenblatt comes amid a major reshifting of responsibilities at the company, which also include CNN’s Jeff Zucker adding sports-related businesses to his purview.



What’s AT&T vision? Unclear, at the moment. It also doesn’t help we may not recognize where specific future TV platforms -- linear TV, on-demand or otherwise -- will be going, either.

The history of traditional communication phone companies merging with entertainment companies isn’t good, adds Moffett and Nathanson.

What we know is this: AT&T plans to get much more out of HBO -- in particular -- when it comes to developing its new WarnerMedia OTT service. Critics are concerned HBO, which has been primarily a “boutique” TV network of high-quality, independent-minded programming, may be in for a change.

HBO, with ad-free programming supported by consumer fees -- has been the “premium” place for video versus basic ad-supported cable TV shows, like on Turner.

Basic cable TV has meant, until now, somewhat less risky language and safe programming. Now, with the rise of new OTT platforms, there is much melding of programming.

About 20 years ago, Bob Wright, president-CEO, NBC from 1986 to 2001, complained that HBO’s “The Sopranos” could never air on a broadcast network, due in large part, to specific content and language issues.

He worried edgier HBO shows were pushing and affecting all TV networks. Now, much TV programming could be put into the same silos.

“The days when HBO and Turner were best served by self-interested independence are gone,” writes Moffett and Nathanson. “At a time of dramatic industry change, centralization is critical to strategy.”

Will consumers see the difference? Will a “Game of Thrones” still standout from a “Real Housewives”? It might not really matter.

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