HBO Must Get Bigger and Broader, Says Its New Overseer

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The California-born Mr. Stankey, who lives in Texas and has donated to a number of Republican campaigns, cuts a lower profile. He started his telecommunications career at Pacific Bell in 1985 and has served in various roles at AT&T, including chief technology officer and head of the company’s DirecTV unit. On the stage of the HBO Theater, he described himself as a “Bell-head,” a term that was probably lost on the people in the seats.

During the talk, Mr. Plepler seemed willing to make changes. “I’ve said, ‘More is not better, only better is better,’ because that was the hand we had,” he said, as Mr. Stankey looked on. “I’ve switched that, now that you’re here, to: ‘More isn’t better, only better is better — but we need a lot more to be even better.’”

Mr. Stankey’s experience at AT&T — which offers two streaming services, DirectTV Now and WatchTV — has given him a deep familiarity with the recent shift in how media is distributed. He warned that there would be only so many streaming companies in the future. If HBO would like to end up as a heavyweight in the industry, he said, it would be wise to add “other types of content” to what is available on its stand-alone streaming service, HBO Now.

He also made the case that HBO’s employees should consider themselves fortunate to have AT&T as their new corporate parent, rather than a company in the same business.

“The good news for many of you in this organization is that it’s not Fox or Disney sitting up on this stage now,” Mr. Stankey said. “There’s virtually no duplication with AT&T in what we do.”

In other words, your jobs are safe.

But he cautioned that HBO’s employees would notice a change in tempo and metabolism in the days ahead. “I suspect if we’re in a situation where we’re going to be investing heavier, that means that there’s going to be more work for all of you to do — and you’re going to be working a little bit harder,” Mr. Stankey said.

After comparing the next 12 months to a “dog year,” he invoked another metaphor.

“You will work very hard, and this next year will — my wife hates it when I say this — feel like childbirth,” he said. “You’ll look back on it and be very fond of it, but it’s not going to feel great while you’re in the middle of it. She says, ‘What do you know about this?’ I just observe, ‘Honey. We love our kids.’”

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