Days after The Hollywood Reporter reported that the former NBC Entertainment chairman was being eyed for a top job at the AT&T-owned media behemoth, the executive has been tapped to serve as chairman, WarnerMedia Entertainment and direct-to-consumer.
Reporting to WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey, Greenblatt will have oversight of the company’s combined television programming operations, including HBO and Turner’s TNT, TBS and truTV and the company’s planned streaming service. Executives including HBO programming president Casey Bloys, TBS, TNT and WarnerMedia streaming chief creative officer Kevin Reilly will report directly to Greenblatt, who will remain based in Los Angeles.
“This change will provide the company with the agility and flexibility needed to build WarnerMedia’s brands across a variety of evolving distribution models with a more coordinated approach to the company’s original programming,” the company said.
Kevin Tsujihara, who continues as chairman and CEO, Warner Bros., also gets additional responsibilities, including a new global kids and young adults business that brings together the family, kids and animation efforts from across WarnerMedia, including Cartoon Network, Adult Swim and Boomerang. Additionally, Otter Media, Turner Classic Movies and all activities around licensed consumer products development for WarnerMedia properties will be under his supervision. The company will consolidate all WarnerMedia affiliates and advertising sales groups under
one unified structure led by him.
Meanwhile, Jeff Zucker becomes chairman, WarnerMedia News & Sports, and president, CNN. His expanded portfolio includes CNN Worldwide (CNN, CNN.com, CNN International, CNN en Espanol, HLN, Great Big Story), Turner Sports, Bleacher Report and the AT&T Regional Sports Networks.
In addition, Gerhard Zeiler has been elevated from president, Turner International to WarnerMedia chief revenue officer.
“We have done an amazing job establishing our brands as leaders in the hearts and minds of consumers,” said Stankey. “Adding Bob Greenblatt to the WarnerMedia family and expanding the leadership scope and responsibilities of Jeff, Kevin and Gerhard — who collectively have more than 80 years of global media experience and success — 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.”
Said Greenblatt: “I’m honored to be joining WarnerMedia during such an exciting time for the company and the industry as a whole, and I look forward to working alongside the many talented executives and team members across the company. WarnerMedia is home to some of the world’s most innovative, creative and successful brands and we’re in a unique position to foster even deeper connections with consumers. And it goes without saying, I will always have a soft spot in my heart for HBO going back to the rewarding experience I had producing Alan Ball’s Six Feet Under.”
Greenblatt’s formal appointment follows Richard Plepler’s Feb. 28 decision to leave his nearly three-decade home at HBO, where he most recently served as chairman and CEO of the premium cable network. Plepler, who greenlit legacy hits including Game of Thrones, Girls and Veep, notified Stankey about his decision to leave before talk of WarnerMedia bringing in a top programming hire began. Sources say Plepler arrived at the decision weeks ago as HBO was poised to have reduced autonomy within WarnerMedia’s expanded portfolio. Turner president David Levy also announced his departure from the newly merged company, which sees Greenblatt also take on oversight of TNT, TBS and TruTV, with those network execs also reporting to Greenblatt.
Greenblatt’s hiring arrives nine months after AT&T’s formed WarnerMedia after regulators approved its $85 billion to $105 billion acquisition of HBO parent Time Warner. The combined company is planning a wave of moves after a D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the government failed to prove the transaction would harm the marketplace.
As part of Stankey’s larger plan for WarnerMedia, speculation has continued to intensify that the executive could indeed merge all cable network oversight under one senior leader (Greenblatt) as part of a cost-saving move to eliminate redundancies in departments like marketing, HR and ad sales, among others. Such a move would not impact creative roles at each network but instead would have seen execs like Plepler and Levy have reduced autonomy within the expanded WarnerMedia. That factor alone helped contribute to Plepler’s decision to leave HBO.
Stankey, last July, warned that HBO employees faced a “tough year” akin to “childbirth” as he looks to better position the supersized company to compete with streaming behemoth Netflix. “It’s going to be a lot of work to alter and change direction a little bit,” Stankey told employees during a corporate town hall meeting last summer during which he outlined the challenges and opportunities for HBO with Plepler. WarnerMedia’s streaming service will launch in the fourth quarter of 2019 and expand to scripted originals in 2020. Reilly’s top TNT lieutenant, Sarah Aubrey, will head originals for the direct-to-consumer platform while TBS’ Brett Weitz added oversight of TNT as rumors continue to swirl about the state of scripted originals on the drama- and comedy-focused cable networks, respectively.
Stankey has indicated he plans to further invest financial resources for HBO, which has a mandate to increase originals. Bloys, in a February interview with THR, characterized that investment as a 50 percent increase in programming hours. “The important thing to note about the expansion of the programming is that this is all programming that we would have done if we were only programming Sundays,” he said of the cable network, which also will expand to Mondays this year. “There’s no programming that we’re doing that we wouldn’t have done five years ago. It’s all high-quality, interesting programming.… We’re doing all the things that we have done [programming and genre-wise], we’re just fortunate now that we can do more of it.”
Even before the Court of Appeals decision, WarnerMedia had begun offering early retirement options to veteran HBO employees who are both over the age of 55 or have worked at the cabler for at least 10 years. The move follows Stankey’s outlined plans in a memo to “maximize efficiencies to enable innovation and investment” across the newly combined company.
In Greenblatt, WarnerMedia gains an exec with a wealth of experience working in broadcast and premium cable — and as a producer. Greenblatt stepped down as entertainment chairman at NBC in September after leading the Comcast-owned broadcaster for the past eight years. During that tenure, he turned around the network to a near-uncontested No. 1 in ratings among the advertiser-coveted adults 18-49 demographic with a mix of unscripted (The Voice) and scripted (The Good Place, This Is Us and multiple Dick Wolf procedurals) fare. Before that, Greenblatt had a long stint overseeing premium cable network Showtime, where he developed edgy and awards-season favorites including Weeds, Nurse Jackie and Dexter. He also produced HBO’s critical favorite Six Feet Under. The longtime executive continues to have close ties to Broadway, having produced shows including 9 to 5 and multiple live musicals.
Greenblatt’s next chapter comes after rumors swirled around industry circles that the respected executive was being courted by such outlets as Apple, CBS or Starz.