Ahead of a series of town hall meetings this week, new WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey told Deadline he did not expect any more high-level management departures in the near term. In the wide-ranging conversation, he did acknowledge some layoffs would result from the $85 billion merger, though most of them would be in administrative roles such as human resources or accounting.
A series of rapid-fire announcements last week followed AT&T’s resounding June 12 victory over the Justice Department, which sought to block the $85 million merger with Time Warner on antitrust grounds.
AT&T moved swiftly to close the deal. It then announced the exit of Time Warner’s chief executive Jeff Bewkes, Turner Chief Executive John Martin, Time Warner Executive Vice President of International and Corporate Strategy Olaf Olafson and Gary Ginsberg, head of corporate marketing and communications.
“What we did last week is we set the leadership,” Stankey said during the telephone interview. “We’re ready to move forward and execute.”
Stankey did confirm an unspecified number of layoffs in corporate support positions as such accounting, human resources or securities lawyers, where there duplication of staffing at AT&T. But the vertical nature of the deal (combining two companies with different specialties) will likely leave the cuts below the level of horizontal deals such as the large combination of 21st Century Fox assets and either Disney or Comcast.
Standing 6-foot-5, Stankey has a deep voice and steady demeanor. Although he has spent the past year and a half steering the merger and integration plan, he is still a Hollywood outsider.
A native of Southern California, he earned a bachelor’s degree in finance from Loyola Marymount and an MBA from UCLA. He has spent three decades at AT&T, serving as chief strategy officer when the telecom giant acquired DirecTV for $48.5 billion in 2015, a deal that made AT&T the biggest pay-TV company in the country. As head of AT&T’s Entertainment Group he launched new mobile video experiences, including the streaming service DirecTV Now.
The veteran executive may not have spent abundant time in the Hollywood trenches, but he seemed not to blanch at the rich talent deals like the $300 million contract Warner Bros. Television Group made with producer Greg Berlanti. “I have no trepidation about making sure we maintain those relationships with the very top talent, going froward,” Stankey said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.
Direct-to-consumer offerings in the mold of HBONow are a top priority for WarnerMedia, Stankey told Deadline.
AT&T plans to introduce AT&T Watch, a “skinny bundle” of programming — minus sports — free to AT&T Unlimited wireless customers. Others will be able to purchase it at a discounted rate of $15, according to the testimony of AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, who discussed the plans for the inexpensive consumer service during the trail.
That could happen very quickly: in a matter of days, not weeks, Stankey said.
Stakey also is moving quickly to harness AT&T’s technology platforms and data with Time Warner’s world-class content. It’s something AT&T and Warner talked about at length during the antitrust trial, as the telecommunications giant laid out its rationale for acquiring the storied Hollywood studio.
WarnerMedia hopes to glean insights from AT&T’s customers to inform programming decisions and target advertising, though it won’t take the place of creative decision-making.
Over time, Stankey plans to launch a programmatic ad platform that would match what Google offers brands and buyers: namely, the ability to reach specific types of consumers, as they watch different shows on different types of screens.
“It’s going to take … a year before those capabilities start to emerge,” said Stankey.