‘This next year will … feel like childbirth’: HBO’s new corporate overlord warns employees to expect a tough year

Warner Media CEO John Stankey told HBO employees to expect a difficult year.

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Warner Media CEO John Stankey told HBO employees to expect a difficult year.
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John Lamparski / Stringer

  • Warner Media CEO John Stankey told HBO employees to anticipate a tough year to come at the company, The New York Times reported.
  • “You will work very hard, and this next year will – my wife hates it when I say this – feel like childbirth,” he told 150 HBO employees at a recent town-hall event, The Times said.
  • Stankey said HBO needed to increase its subscriber base and get bigger and broader to compete, according to the report.

Employees at HBO should prepare themselves for a busy – and potentially painful – year ahead.

That was the message Warner Media CEO John Stankey gave to 150 HBO employees at a recent company town-hall event, The New York Times reported, citing a recording it obtained.

“It’s going to be a tough year,” Stankey said, according to The Times. “It’s going to be a lot of work to alter and change direction a little bit.”

Using the phrase “dog year” to describe the next 12 months and telling employees they were “going to be working a little bit harder,” Stankey ratcheted up the pain level that HBO employees should expect, The Times said.

“You will work very hard, and this next year will – my wife hates it when I say this – feel like childbirth,” Stankey said, per the report. “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.”

Stankey’s reported town-hall statements seemed different in tone from previous comments from executives at AT&T, which last month acquired Time Warner and rebranded the part overseeing HBO, Turner, and Warner Bros. as Warner Media.

“At the end of the day, you’re acquiring a business that’s been very successful,” AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said at the 2018 Code Conference in May. “It’s been run very independently. HBO is run independently from Warner Brothers, which is run independently from Turner, and it’s been a very good model.”

HBO CEO Richard Plepler, who The Times said hosted the town-hall event with Stankey, previously stressed the importance of AT&T staying out of HBO’s process.

“You have to have a Chinese wall between the creative process and everything else,” Plepler told The Times in 2016 after the deal was announced.

While Stankey didn’t get overly specific about future strategy at the HBO town-hall event, according to The Times, he said HBO would need to transform, offering bigger and broader content to boost customers’ engagement.

“I want more hours of engagement,” he said, per the report. “Why are more hours of engagement important? Because you get more data and information about a customer that then allows you to do things like monetize through alternate models of advertising as well as subscriptions, which I think is very important to play in tomorrow’s world.”