WSJ report: AT&T pondering merging Turner with HBO

Originally posted Thursday, February 28, 2019 by RODNEY HO/ on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

The Wall Street Journal reported that AT&T wants to combine its Turner Broadcasting and HBO operations in what is now called WarnerMedia. It would also include an upcoming streaming service.

AT&T’s takeover of Time Warner has finally cleared the Department of Justice. It was originally announce in October, 2016 but the DOJ objected to the merger and it got hung up court until October, 2018. The DOJ filed an appeal but ultimately lost.

Earlier this week, the court rejected the government’s assertion that the merger would violate antitrust law now that Netflix, Amazon and others are now competing in the content business. The DOJ doesn’t plan to fight any further.

HBO, Turner and Warner Bros. have operated autonomously over the past 20-plus years under Time Warner.

Turner, with offices at CNN Center, Williams Street and Techwood, still has a major presence in Atlanta. Affiliate relations, operations and marketing are still housed here although most top executives and creatives are now based in New York or Los Angeles. Adult Swim is the only portion of the Turner world where the leader (Mike Lazzo) is still based in Atlanta.

HBO - the first paid cable service going back more than 40 years - is headquartered in New York and has generated a reputation for top-flight entertainment. Turner’s TBS and TNT are still popular, profitable basic cable operations but have lost audience in recent years as more people are dropping cable.

Al Meyers, a former vice president of strategy for Turner from 1998 to 2008, said he expects AT&T to move quickly since it has been hamstrung by the government until now to make big moves.

“I expect major restructuring at Turner,” Meyers said. “There’s a lot of overlap of operations. It creates a lot of uncertainty. Strategically, it makes sense but it does draw a cloud over the organization in terms of who stays and who goes at this point.”

Indeed, soon after the WSJ story came out, news came out that Turner president David Levy and HBO CEO Richard Plepler are departing.

A former NBC executive Robert Greenblatt is being courted to take over, the Wall Street Journal said.