Richard Plepler Named HBO CEO as Bill Nelson Retires

From left: Michael Lombardo, Richard Plepler, Bill Nelson and Eric Kessler

Eric Kessler will serve as president and COO at the premium cable network and Michael Lombardo will be president of programming.

HBO chief executive Bill Nelson is stepping down at the year’s end.

Richard Plepler will be elevated from co-president to CEO, with Eric Kessler and Michael Lombardo serving as president/COO and president of programming, respectively. As part of the new management structure, both Kessler and Lombardo will report to Plepler, a multi-decade veteran of the premium cable channel.

“HBO has been my home for almost 30 years, so this decision was an emotional one,” said Nelson, who replaced ousted CEO Chris Albrecht in 2007. During Nelson's tenure as chief executive, HBO has posted record revenue and profits as well as creative accolades that include 81 Emmy nominations this year. He also has overseen the company’s international expansion, with HBO now able to claim more than 100 million subscribers worldwide.

“Bill and I have worked together for many, many years, and though I’m sad to see him leave, I respect his decision to enjoy retirement,” said Jeff Bewkes, chairman and CEO of HBO parent Time Warner Inc. "He is a world-class CEO and leaves the company well-positioned for the future.

“The company will not miss a step with the new team, which has the combination of talent and experience to drive HBO to new heights of creative excellence, innovation and financial performance," he continued. "Richard and Eric are 20-plus-year veterans of the company who, as co-presidents, helped HBO re-establish its pre-eminence over the past five years, and Mike Lombardo has done an exceptional job in developing the best slate in HBO’s history.”

Plepler, the one-time corporate communications chief, has been credited with reinvigorating the network, which had found its cupboard relatively bare as mega-hits The Sopranos and Sex and the City ended their runs and rivals including Showtime and AMC beefed up their original offerings.

With Lombardo, he has greenlighted such hits as True Blood, Boardwalk Empire, Girls, Veep and Aaron Sorkin's The Newsroom, which was mostly panned by critics even if enough viewers have tuned in to earn the show a second-season order.

But with Showtime growing its subscriber base and in possession of one of the most buzzed-about shows on TV in Homeland, HBO has a new rival.

Showtime has 21.3 million subscribers, up from 13.8 million in 2005, according to SNL Kagan. HBO is between to have 28 million to 29 million.

Still, HBO is a global and iconic brand that brings in more than $1 billion annually, nearly a quarter of parent Time Warner's annual profits.