AT&T Shake-Up Sends Two of Its Top Media Executives Packing
(Bloomberg) -- Richard Plepler and David Levy, two of the most powerful executives in U.S. media, are leaving their posts at WarnerMedia as new boss AT&T Inc. overhauls the entertainment business it bought last year.
Plepler, who helped create some of TV’s most memorable programs over three decades at HBO, said Thursday he plans to step down as chief executive officer of the premium cable network. Levy, president of Turner Broadcasting, announced his departure Friday morning.
“Hard as it is to think about leaving the company I love, and the people I love in it, it is the right time for me to do so,” the 60-year-old Plepler said in a memo to staff.
AT&T is in the process of reorganizing WarnerMedia and will announce additional steps in the next week or two, said two of the people, who asked not to be identified because the decisions aren’t public. AT&T plans to consolidate networks such as TNT, TBS and HBO in one division, and is in talks with longtime TV executive Bob Greenblatt to run that business, according to the people.
The phone company had to hold off on changes until it beat back an attempt by the U.S. Justice Department to unwind the $85 billion deal. Plepler had communicated his plans to leave several months ago, the people said, but agreed to stay on until the case was resolved.
Jeff Zucker, head of WarnerMedia’s CNN division, is expected to oversee Turner Sports as part of the restructuring, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Plepler, who had enjoyed almost-complete autonomy, didn’t wish to surrender control under the new structure. The former public-relations executive joined HBO in 1992 and helped turn it into a jewel of the cable-TV industry. After ascending to the role of co-president and then CEO, he oversaw hits including “Game of Thrones” and “Silicon Valley,” and shepherded the network’s push into online TV. HBO has added 40 million subscribers during Plepler’s six-year reign as CEO, including nearly 8 million online.
Plepler’s reach extends far beyond HBO. He is a fixture on the New York media scene and a political fundraiser who sits on the boards of the New York Public Library and the Council on Foreign Relations. The well-tanned, eloquent media baron is as comfortable hobnobbing with senators and journalists as he is with movie stars and filmmakers.
His departure prompted an outpouring of sadness from creative partners, including the actor Jeffrey Wright, who appeared in the network series “Westworld,” and David Simon, creator of “The Wire.” But he was never a natural fit with his new bosses at AT&T.
“Richard is one of the most successful executives in our industry and I have been fortunate to have his support over the last months,” WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey said in a statement. “His vision, energy and passion helped to elevate HBO’s brand to what it has become today.”
Levy, 55, is a major figure in the sports business world, having negotiated long-term broadcast-rights deals with leagues such as the National Basketball Association, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, the PGA of America and Major League Baseball.
“Turner has been a significant part of my life and I will watch from the sidelines as this company continues to produce more amazing moments,” Levy said in a memo to staff, in which he reminisced about joining the company at age 24.
He helped create “The Match,” a head-to-head golf showdown between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson that aired across AT&T’s properties last fall. He’d also begun Turner’s foray into sports betting, inking a deal with Caesars Entertainment Corp. that made the casino operator the presenting sponsor of all gambling programming across Turner. The Information website previously reported on Levy’s departure.
AT&T plans to cull staff, unifying certain back-office functions and investing any cost savings into new production. Stankey also is developing a new streaming service under the leadership of Kevin Reilly.
“We’ve created a great and unique enterprise,” Plepler said in the memo. “And I know that you will protect its legacy and do all to enhance its future in the years to come.”
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