Stephenson has served as AT&T’s CEO since May 2007, a time period that saw the company massive expand in both existing and new markets, with an attempted (but failed purchase of T-Mobile) in 2011, an acquisition of Leap Wireless in 2013, a purchase of DirecTV in 2014, and the landmark $85 billion Time Warner deal that closed back in 2018 after years of regulatory fighting and objections from the Justice Department.
Stankey became the heir apparent in September when AT&T named him the president and COO of the company. Stankey continued to oversea its WarnerMedia division as CEO, but started looking for a successor late last year. AT&T named former Hulu chief Jason Kilar as the new CEO of WarnerMedia in April, giving Stankey the space to move forward at AT&T without having to worry about overseeing the day-to-day operations of the company’s growing and controversial division. Stankey’s move, first to COO and now to CEO, comes just months after an activist investment firm publicly critiqued AT&T for its various media purchases, and shed doubt on the decision to launch a direct-to-consumer streaming service, HBO Max, set to compete against Netflix and Disney Plus.
Still, both Stephenson and Stankey have stood by HBO Max as an integral part of AT&T’s future, especially as the traditional cable and satellite divisions continue to suffer. Stephenson described it as a “meaningful business” to the company that will play out over the next four to five years. AT&T lost lost 138,000 AT&T TV Now streaming service subscribers in the most recent quarter, which followed a loss of 219,000 subscribers in the fourth quarter. AT&T also recorded a 897,000 loss of premium TV subscribers at DirecTV and U-Verse. The company lost more than one million TV subscribers overall.
Stankey is a champion of WarnerMedia, and having him in the top role at AT&T demonstrates the continued investment in and importance of WarnerMedia as AT&T moves forward, even as his new postion will put him in charge not only of AT&T’s media business, but the company’s broader telecommunications services as well.
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