John Stankey to Oversee Time Warner as Head of Planned AT&T Media Unit (Report)

John Stankey - Getty - H 2016
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John Stankey - Getty - H 2016

When the deal for the entertainment giant closes, the heads of the company's content and distribution units will report to chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson in a setup similar to Comcast/NBCUniversal.

AT&T is planning an organizational change if and once it completes its planned $85.4 billion acquisition of Time Warner, Bloomberg News reported.

Two heads of separate media/content and telecommunications/distribution units will report to current AT&T chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson, it said. The setup would be similar to Comcast/NBCUniversal where NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke and Comcast Cable CEO David Watson report to Comcast chairman, and CEO, Brian Roberts.

AT&T Entertainment Group head John Stankey will oversee the company's content businesses, mostly Time Warner, from his office in El Segundo, while strategy chief John Donovan will become CEO of the distribution business in Dallas. 

Analysts and industry watchers have long expected Stankey, who has held various jobs across AT&T's business portfolio over the years, to get oversight of Time Warner, but so far it hasn't been clear under what organizational structure.

It wasn't immediately clear if the role of Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes, who has said he plans to continue for at least a year after the A&T deal closes, would be affected in any way. One analyst suggested he could in the envisioned setup continue as Time Warner CEO and leave after a year or two without any major rejig needed.

The Bloomberg report also said that Stephenson would drop his AT&T CEO title. But AT&T said Friday: "Randall Stephenson will remain chairman and chief executive officer of AT&T after we close the Time Warner deal."

The company also said: ""No decisions on org structure or leadership have been finalized. Randall and Jeff are working through that."

That analyst said the three divisional heads of Time Warner — Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara, HBO CEO Richard Plepler and Turner CEO John Martin — could first report to Bewkes, but when he leaves report directly to Stankey. AT&T has repeatedly said it wants to retain key Time Warner executives as it needs their expertise.

Bloomberg also cited a source as saying that AT&T is trying to use Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway’s management style, which gives acquired companies a lot of autonomy.

The separation of the AT&T businesses could also help address regulators’ concerns that the company’s TV and broadband networks would favor content produced by Time Warner’s units, Bloomberg said.

One of the big changes in the planned split into media and telecom units would be a move of responsibility for DirecTV from Stankey to Donovan.

There was no immediate official confirmation of the Bloomberg report. Stephenson and Bewkes are continuing to work on plans for implementing the deal, an AT&T spokesman told Bloomberg, while adding that decisions about organizational structure and leadership haven’t yet been finalized.