AT&T CFO: WarnerMedia Staff Cuts Not Due to HBO Max Launch

WarnerMedia downsizing 600 positions on Aug. 10, which included the departure of longtime Warner Bros. Home Entertainment executive Ron Sanders, was not done in response to the launch of subscription streaming video-on-demand platform HBO Max, according to AT&T CFO John Stephens.

Speaking Aug. 11 at the virtual Oppenheimer Technology, Internet & Communications confab, Stephens said the job cuts — spearheaded by new WarnerMedia boss Jason Kilar — were done to refocus the company and eliminate redundancy.

AT&T CFO John Stephens

“All of these [business] groups are then focused and speak with one voice and, quite frankly, allow for some streamlining of support services, and back-office and G&A services,” Stephens said. “I view it as more of a refocusing of the company.”

Stephens said the cuts were not about a need to “adjust anything,” but rather to make WarnerMedia perform better going forward.

Sanders, who followed high-profile departures of Bob Greenblatt and Kevin Reilly on Aug. 7, was president of Warner Bros. worldwide theatrical distribution, and president of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. With theatrical distribution at a standstill due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, coupled with WarnerMedia’s non-disclosure of home entertainment on its financial statements, current uncertainties in the studio business perhaps undermined Sanders’ job status.

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Indeed, the primary focus at WarnerMedia remains HBO Max, which launched May 27 with about 4 million subs into a crowded SVOD market spearheaded by Netflix, with Amazon Prime Video, Hulu and Disney+, among others, at the distance.

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

Finally, Stephens said AT&T has downsized its $180 billion corporate debt level 15% to $153 billion through June 30. The telecom ballooned its debt following the $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner, which included Warner Bros., HBO and Turner.

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