Changes Are Coming for HBO as AT&T Tries to Find Streaming Subscribers

March 19, 2019

By Michelle Castillo

Top executives leaving HBO could signal a shift in strategy toward the mainstream.

Bernadette Aulestia, president of global distribution at HBO, will be leaving her executive role after being with the company for 22 years, a company spokesperson confirmed Tuesday. Aulestia’s departure also follows the exit of chairman and CEO Richard Plepler. Sister company Turner’s president David Levy also recently left his post.

The departures come as the premium cable network is about to face its biggest evolution. HBO, which was acquired by AT&T through the Time Warner merger, currently operates mostly as a solitary entity and has prided itself on being a media company. Now, it’s going to have to fit in with the rest of AT&T's ambitious plans to be a major player in the streaming space ー and that may mean appealing to a broader audience.

Aulestia led the launch of HBO Latino, HBO Go, and HBO Now, the company's standalone subscription service. The introduction of the latter service signaled that HBO was open to not being tied to cable or satellite services, acknowledging there was potential to reach cord-cutters who want to pick what they pay for.

AT&T is taking that concept and expanding it to a larger base with its upcoming tiered WarnerMedia streaming services. To accomplish its goal of winning cord-cutting subscribers across the board, it will need to expand distribution and appeal across all its properties, including HBO. HBO's last reported 147 million global subscribers is a major advantage. But with Netflix close on its heels at 139 million subscribers, HBO will have to adopt more of its competitor's mainstream appeal to compete as a paid service.

Under CEO Plepler's leadership, HBO maintained its reputation as a quality television network through its release of prestige, big budget shows including “Game of Thrones,” “True Blood,” and “Boardwalk Empire.” Now HBO is being folded into a group alongside other Turner cable networks with a different programming strategy, which include TNT, TBS, and truTV. The division will be led by Bob Greenblatt, a former NBC Entertainment chairman with experience in mainstream primetime TV shows. However, it is too early to tell how the HBO executive departures will affect the types of content on HBO in the future, a spokesperson said.