Incoming Time Warner Chief: CNN Not for Sale (Exclusive)

John Stankey - MediaLink Presents MASS-ter class -Getty-H 2017
John Lamparski/Getty Images

John Stankey, in his first interview since being named to oversee assets such as Warner Bros. and HBO when AT&T’s acquisition of the media company is closed, also expresses support for Warners CEO Kevin Tsujihara: "He's a talented guy."

Despite widespread speculation to the contrary, AT&T will not sell CNN after its acquisition of parent Time Warner closes, according to AT&T Entertainment Group chief John Stankey.

In his first interview since he was named as the executive to lead Time Warner — which will soon have a new name — Stankey tells The Hollywood Reporter that he considers news to be much like sports (which Time Warner delivers though its Turner Broadcasting channels) in terms of providing content that is urgent and watchable on a variety of devices. “It would be a strategically missed opportunity if we weren’t in that business,” he says.

There will be no changes with respect to CNN's editorial independence. “You can’t run a national news organization with that importance to our society without maintaining its editorial independence,” Stankey says. Though he has not at this point spent a substantial amount of time with Jeff Zucker, Stankey says the CNN Worldwide president has expanded the brand and its audience. (CNN has slipped into third place in primetime, behind a surging MSNBC and Fox News.)

As for Time Warner’s TMZ, which has also been the subject of sale speculation, Stankey says he is still unfamiliar with the property. Overall, however, he says AT&T is buying a collection of assets and has “no intention to divest any of that or restructure it, unequivocally, bar none.”

Stankey, a 30-year AT&T veteran, was tapped last week to oversee Time Warner’s assets once AT&T’s $85.4 billion acquisition is approved. U.S. antitrust officials, who have been reviewing the proposed deal for months, are poised to approve the deal, Bloomberg recently reported. If so, Stankey is about to become one of the most powerful executives in Hollywood, overseeing a portfolio that includes HBO, Warner Bros., Turner networks and, yes, CNN.

Asked about reports that AT&T has engaged a search firm to seek an executive to install below him to oversee the Time Warner assets, Stankey says, “Unequivocally no,” adding that such reports are “entirely inaccurate and untrue.”

He also offers words of encouragement for Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara, who has seen notable success this year with Wonder Woman but has faced other disappointments, including some high-priced flops and a struggle to shape DC Entertainment into a true rival of Marvel. “Categorically, to the extent that Kevin is interested in continuing to work with us, we’d love to have him here,” Stankey says. “He’s a talented guy.”

With respect to possible layoffs after the deal closes, Stankey says: "Because this is a vertical deal with no overlap in our businesses, you won't see layoffs, with a few exceptions of duplication at the corporate level. We want those people [at Time Warner] to be around."

Stankey also confirms that the entertainment assets will no longer be known as Time Warner, but he is not prepared to reveal the new name.