WarnerMedia Names Jason Kilar CEO

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Jason Kilar

The executive was the founding CEO of Hulu, holding the post from 2007 to 2013.

WarnerMedia has found its new CEO.

Former Hulu CEO Jason Kilar has been named the new chief of the AT&T division, replacing John Stankey, who was recently upped to president and COO at the parent company. Kilar, who will report to Stankey, will join the company on May 1.   

"Jason is a dynamic executive with the right skill set to lead WarnerMedia into the future. His experience in media and entertainment, direct-to-consumer video streaming and advertising is the perfect fit for WarnerMedia, and I am excited to have him lead the next chapter of WarnerMedia’s storied success,” Stankey said Wednesday in a statement. 

He added, “Our team led by Bob Greenblatt, Ann Sarnoff, Gerhard Zeiler and Jeff Zucker has done an amazing job establishing our brands as leaders in the hearts and minds of consumers. Adding Jason to the talented WarnerMedia family as we launch HBO Max in May gives us the right management team to strategically position our leading portfolio of brands, world-class talent and rich library of intellectual property for future growth."

In his new role, Kilar will assume oversight of a vast media portfolio, one that includes news network CNN, film studio Warner Bros. and prestige cable network HBO. 

Kilar brings deep streaming experience to the role, and his appointment signals that WarnerMedia is prioritizing the performance of its forthcoming streaming service, HBO Max. After several years at Amazon, where he was a close ally of CEO Jeff Bezos, Kilar became the founding CEO of Hulu. From 2007 to 2013, he saw the fledgling streamer through its period of early growth and navigated the complex corporate relationship between its three owners: Disney, NBCUniversal and 21st Century Fox. 

After he left Hulu, Kilar co-founded and served as CEO of streaming video startup Vessel, which sought to bring a windowing strategy to shortform digital video by offering early access to content from top YouTubers. But the service struggled to catch on with customers accustomed to getting that programming for free, and he ultimately sold its technology to Verizon in 2016. He has also served on the boards of DreamWorks Animation and Univision. 

"In partnership with this world-class team, I'm so excited for the opportunity to lean into the future at WarnerMedia," Kilar said in a statement. "Stories well told have always mattered, and they matter even more in this challenging time for the world. It will be a privilege to invent, create, and serve with so many talented people. May 1 can't get here soon enough."

A longtime AT&T executive, Stankey assumed oversight of WarnerMedia after the telecom company completed its $85.4 billion acquisition of the formerly named Time Warner. But after Stankey, who has a reputation as a strategic business operator, took on a larger role within AT&T in September 2019 — one that sets him up as a likely successor to AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson — observers suggested that he would look for an experienced Hollywood executive to replace him in running WarnerMedia's day-to-day operations. 

Kilar will inherit a company undergoing a significant transformation as it repositions itself to offer its programming direct to consumers with HBO Max. Fourth-quarter operating income for the media unit was down nearly 10 percent to $2.4 billion due to the investment in and forgone content licensing revenue tied to HBO Max, and that trend is expected to continue through the first half of 2020.

Warner Bros., which posted lower theatrical revenue during the fourth quarter compared with the same period the previous year, is expected to feel the impact of the coronavirus shutdown, having delayed the release of the upcoming titles Scoob! and In the Heights. And HBO, which had a nearly 23 percent drop in operating income in the fourth quarter, is adjusting now that its juggernaut Game of Thrones has ended. The network also said goodbye to longtime chairman and CEO Richard Plepler in 2019. 

After WarnerMedia revealed the hiring on Wednesday, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings noted in a tweet, "Congratulations @jasonkilar! Scary for us to have you there, but great for the world that HBO will be strong."