The reductions from a workforce of about 25,000 follow major changes announced late Friday by WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar. Among the senior-level employees exiting the company are Jeffrey R. Schlesinger, President of Warner Bros Worldwide Television Distribution; Ron Sanders, President of Worldwide Theatrical Distribution & Home Entertainment; and Warner Bros Entertainment CFO Kim Williams.
Advocating a shift toward consumer-facing operations and away from wholesale, Kilar unveiled a new executive structure, telling Deadline that “tough decisions” lay ahead in regard to staffing. The new setup expands the purview of former Warner Bros chief Ann Sarnoff, HBO programming boss Casey Bloys and WarnerMedia direct-to-consumer head Andy Forssell. Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt and HBO Max/TNT/TBS overseer Kevin Reilly have departed the company, along with communications and marketing exec Keith Cocozza, a 19-year company veteran.
The May 27 launch of HBO Max is at the center of the changes. Parent company AT&T announced last month it had drawn 4.1 million sign-ups in its first two months and was on pace to hit internal targets for growth over five years. Customer confusion over who is eligible get HBO Max, given the existence of multiple HBO-branded offerings in the market, has clouded the launch. The service is also not available through Roku of Amazon Fire TV. Those two distributors reach more than 80 million U.S. homes.
Production of original programming ticketed for HBO Max has also been waylaid by COVID-19. The company’s film and TV studio has also suffered major setbacks during the pandemic, with movie theaters closed and live sports going dark for months. WarnerMedia-owned TNT recently has seen a spark from the return of NBA basketball, but advertising across all networks continues to be well below 2019 levels.
The restructuring is the latest wave of change to come to WarnerMedia, which officially became part of AT&T in 2018. Former WarnerMedia chief John Stankey, now CEO of AT&T, initiated significant cost cutting and staff reductions as he worked to break down the walls between HBO, Warner Bros and Turner. The exits of HBO and Turner bosses Richard Plepler and David Levy in early 2019 were accompanied by a widespread exodus of executive talent. Buyouts were offered to executives with more than 10 years of service.
Reducing costs, through staff reductions, asset sales and other means, has been a central focus of AT&T as it has worked to absorb the $81 billion acquisition of Time Warner, which was renamed WarnerMedia. The company reported $152 billion in net debt as of June 30 after having taken on $40 billion in debt for the Time Warner deal alone.
Shares in AT&T were up a fraction in mid-day trading Monday, just past $30. Like other media stocks, AT&T’s took a hit in late-February as the extent of the global pandemic became clear, and has not recovered to near the $39 mark where it began 2020.