Living up to its old swaggering slogan, “It’s not TV, It’s HBO,” the premium cable network drafted some of its biggest stars to welcome the new boss.
Before WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey took the stage for an hour-long town hall meeting in Manhattan, HBO aired a funny video featuring Real Time’s Bill Maher, Veep’s Tony Hale, Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clark and Kit Harington and Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Larry David posing questions of the new boss.
The mood at the town hall was generally sanguine, according to HBO staffers Deadline spoke with, and the script hewed to Stankey’s remarks in recent days. “We got a more bespoke version of the talking points,” one insider said. “It didn’t break a lot of new ground but it delivered the message in a very HBO way.”
Even so, there are some larger existential questions looming for the 46-year-old premium network. While it has continued to increase subscribers and nurture a successful direct-to-consumer complement in HBO Now, the landscape has been fundamentally altered by Netflix and other deep-pocketed rivals.
Stankey emphasized subscriber growth and planning for the future, saying at one point, “The answers for the next five years are not found looking in the rearview mirror at the last five years,” one person who attended the meeting said. The new CEO signaled there may be some need for consolidation and finding “smarter” ways of doing business in some areas, including marketing.
On the plus side, Stankey has pledged to ramp up investment in HBO’s programming, which will help it compete with Netflix’s $8 billion annual programming spend.
While Stankey did not dwell on that topic in any detail, what has yet to be determined is the degree of autonomy HBO will continue to enjoy within the AT&T-controlled realm. Under Time Warner, it operated as a nation-state, and for the past several years was run on the top corporate level by an exec, Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes, who started his career at the network and spent a long run there.