The AT&T logo is seen below the BellSouth Bell logo on the Main BellSouth building in Atlanta. (Photographer: Chris Rank/Bloomberg News.)

AT&T’s New TV Chief Looks to Revamp Company for the Netflix Era

(Bloomberg) -- AT&T Inc.’s new television chief, who will oversee cable networks such as HBO, TNT and TBS, thinks he has plenty of ammunition to take on Netflix Inc.

Bob Greenblatt, one of TV’s reigning hit makers, is tasked with pulling together programming for the company’s streaming platform due later this year. The service will use HBO as its foundation, but there’s a vast array of content to choose from, he said in an interview Monday.

Programs from TNT and TBS could also end up on the service, along with animation from the Cartoon Network. Greenblatt also hopes to broaden the types of programs available on the service to areas like “TV movies.”

“I’m a fan of movies, so-called TV movies, which have fallen out of favor,” he said. “I did a few at NBC that were really successful. Maybe there’s a way to do that.”

AT&T is one of at least a half-dozen companies pushing into streaming -- and playing catch-up. While Netflix Inc. has already signed up more than 139 million customers, Walt Disney Co., Apple Inc., AT&T and Comcast Corp. are all still formulating their plans for online TV. (Amazon.com Inc. and Hulu already have millions of customers, but are much smaller than Netflix.)

Greenblatt, who resigned from NBC just five months ago, knows he has an uphill climb. He said he took the job because no other company has a comparable stable of brands and shows.

Bigger Budget

“HBO is one of the great companies of all time,’’ Greenblatt said. And then there are the other assets that AT&T got with its $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner last year: “a TV studio, movie studio -- that can feed into the streaming service.’’

Greenblatt also will have more money for programming. AT&T has said the budget for HBO will grow 50 percent this year.

But the departure of HBO’s long-time chief, Richard Plepler, has stoked concerns that AT&T will change the corporate culture at a TV network that has built a reputation for quality over two decades. Greenblatt insisted that he plans to carry on the tradition of Plepler and his predecessors.

After all, he produced “Six Feet Under,” one of the very dramas that helped establish HBO.

‘90210’

Greenblatt has climbed the ranks of the TV business by allying himself with the underdog. In 1989, he took a job developing new TV shows for Fox, a fledgling broadcast network with a fraction of the audience of CBS, NBC and ABC. He developed hits “Beverly Hills, 90210” and “Melrose Place,” which -- along with NFL football -- put Fox on the map.

After a stint as a producer, Greenblatt joined Showtime, a premium cable network that had always played second fiddle to HBO. Still, he developed the hit shows “Weeds’’ and “Californication,’’ which established Showtime as a home for premium TV.

From Showtime, he jumped to NBC, then the least-watched broadcast network in the U.S. By the time he left, NBC had returned to first, thanks to “This Is Us’’ and “The Voice.’’

But in taking on Netflix, Greenblatt is facing a tougher fight. The big media companies empowered Netflix for years by selling the company their biggest hits in exchange for large checks. Now they have to wean themselves off those checks as they ready their own streaming services.

The viewership for cable networks, including TNT and TBS, has declined, as have the number of people paying for those channels.

“These traditional media businesses are really challenged,’’ he said. “Unless they are uplifted by a company like AT&T, a massive company, it’s just hard to grow them.”

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.