AT&T executive said layoffs intended to benefit HBO Max

At a conference on Tuesday, finance executive John Stephens said AT&T's focus is on its blockbuster streaming service.
(Image: AT&T/Graphic: The Desk)

The ongoing layoffs at AT&T subsidiary WarnerMedia is intended to bolster the company’s blockbuster streaming service HBO Max, a company executive said during a virtual conference on Tuesday.

John Stephens, AT&T’s chief finance executive, said the company’s decision to issue pink slips is viewed by him as a “refocusing” of efforts toward building HBO Max as the foundation and future of AT&T’s content division.

“[It’s a] transformation of making things better — not because we needed to adjust anything, but rather because we’re striving to get even better than the launch was,” Stephens said.

That comment might be of little comfort to approximately 650 people whose positions will be eliminated as a result of the company’s restructuring of efforts and positions around HBO Max.

Robert Greenblatt, the former head of WarnerMedia Entertainment, and HBO Max’s chief content executive Kevin Reilly were among those who lost their jobs as part of a massive corporate shakeup at AT&T.

The move is the first time AT&T has imposed a significant restructuring of WarnerMedia since the telecom acquired it for $85 billion two years ago. The acquisition brought several household brands, including TBS, Cartoon Network, CNN and Warner Bros. Studios, under the direct control of AT&T.

That acquisition and others, including its purchase of satellite broadcaster DirecTV, has saddled AT&T with a debt load that’s been extremely hard to shake, particularly as consumers move away from expensive cable and satellite packages toward cheaper streaming ones.

With HBO Max, AT&T is hoping to turn its business around by bringing HBO’s original programming and a huge library of Warner Bros. content directly to consumers. But its inability to reach agreements with Roku and Amazon have created an environment where HBO Max remains inaccessible to 70 percent of the streaming TV hardware market. As of late July, AT&T had managed to sign on just 4 million subscribers for HBO Max (by comparison, HBO’s traditional cable TV offering has more than 30 million subscribers).

Despite not being available on TV sets in millions of streaming-only households, Stephens is still bullish on HBO Max being the future of AT&T.

“The biggest thing, the most exciting thing for us [going forward] is HBO Max,” he said.

(Disclosure: As of this writing, the author of this story owned stock in AT&T)

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