If it ain't broke, fix it anyway — AT&T to HBO

Warner Media Exec John Stankey On Changes At HBO: “It’s Going To Be A Tough Year”

Audio of the meeting was obtained by The New York Times. Stankey told HBO employees at a recent town hall that the premium cable network is going to "change direction a little bit". In an hour-long chat with HBO CEO Richard Plepler, Stankey laid out the plan of attack for the next years, emphasizing that the first year will be the hardest.

Up until this moment, HBO has prided itself on being a "quality over quantity" network, garnering more Primetime Emmy Awards than its competitions in the past 16 years.

"Yes, you do", Mr. Stankey said. Stankey never said the word "Netflix" at the meeting, according to The Times, but suggested HBO had to "become more like a streaming giant to thrive in the new media landscape". Why do we need other properties, have interesting ways for customers to navigate and get to them easily? "It's not hours a week, and it's not hours a month". We need hours a day.

"I want more hours of engagement". These are important because they could get more information from customers that allows them to profit through alternate methods of advertising, he explained. Thankfully for HBO fans, AT&T wants to make HBO more like Netflix.

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson even said at a telecommunications conference that people should "think about things like Game of Thrones". So what are the best figures to look at if you want to know how the economy is doing? Instead of showing full-length episodes on all devices, it might be best to "curate the content uniquely for a mobile environment".

When AT&T successfully acquired HBO's parent company Time Warner (Fox made a similar attempt in 2014) last month, part of the deal included the ability to track and target audiences.

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"We've got to make money at the end of the day, right?"

"We're not trying to create the most, we're trying to create excellence across our categories", Plepler told CNBC a year ago. With that said, Plepler admits that a change will be needed.

HBO has made a steady profit; for the past three years, it's put more than $2 billion a year toward programming, while making a profit of nearly $6 billion. HBO will get more money from AT&T, but as HBO's programming chief Casey Bloys said when talking about Netflix's spending, "money is obviously very nice but it doesn't automatically mean quality". It would be understandable if HBO was some struggling studio, but HBO's current strategy is proven to work: HBO's revenues in 2017 rose 13% to $1.7 billion.

"I've said, 'More is not better, only better is better, ' because that was the hand we had", Plepler said. We need hours a day. It's this that could be an essential ingredient in Stankey's vision for transforming HBO.

But as the Times notes, "Stankey described a future in which HBO would substantially increase its subscriber base and the number of hours that viewers spend watching its shows".

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