HBO chief and chairman Richard Plepler, who’s been at the company for 27 years and held the role of CEO since 2013, is stepping down amid a broader restructuring at parent company AT&T, reports Variety.
Plepler, who started at Time Warner in 1992, is a notable industry figure who’s had a hand in HBO’s biggest successes. He greenlit Game of Thrones, among other hit shows, and helped HBO establish both its HBO Go streaming platform and its direct-to-consumer HBO Now alternative. He is largely credited with helping the network both maintain its prestige television quality while adjusting its strategy toward the streaming landscape that’s given rise to Netflix, Amazon, and other competitors.
Yet apparently HBO was not changing fast enough. The shakeup is reportedly part of a new strategy from WarnerMedia, the group that owns HBO and was a major part of the assets AT&T acquired in its merger with Time Warner last year, which the Justice Department just earlier this week failed to reverse on appeal. According to Variety, WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey plans to tap former NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt to run a new, combined division that includes HBO and CNN-owner Turner, as well as oversee a new streaming service reportedly launching this year.
It is not all that surprising, however, given comments made by AT&T executives last year when the Time Warner merger went through. Stankey, now the top media executive at the mega-corporation and likely the person who pushed out Plepler and Levy, made bold remarks about the direction HBO needed to take in a conversation with employees last year that was subsequently leaked to The New York Times. Using a peculiar metaphor, Stankey said HBO needed to undergo “childbirth” to transform into a network with a much broader offering of entertainment to better compete with Netflix.
“You will work very hard, and this next year will — my wife hates it when I say this — feel like childbirth. You’ll look back on it and be very fond of it, but it’s not going to feel great while you’re in the middle of it,” Stankey reportedly told HBO employees, who were not thrilled by the remarks. According to The Times, Plepler even interrupted Stankey to point out that HBO turned a profit, to which Stankey reportedly replied, “You do. Just not enough.”