AT&T says it plans to keep top Time Warner managers

Time Warner Chief Executive Jeffrey Bewkes
Time Warner Chairman and Chief Executive Jeffrey Bewkes, shown in 2014, will manage his media company through the transition to AT&T ownership.
(Lionel Cironneau / Associated Press)

Most media mergers end with the old regime getting shoved out the door. But AT&T’s top executive says he plans to keep in place much of Time Warner’s management team.

AT&T unveiled its blockbuster $85.4-billion acquisition of Time Warner this weekend, and the heads of both companies — AT&T Chairman and Chief Executive Randall Stephenson and Time Warner Chairman and Chief Executive Jeffrey Bewkes — quickly said that maintaining the executive ranks of the media company would be a priority.

“I made it clear to Jeff that the talent that he assembled was a really important part of this deal,” Stephenson told reporters in a conference call Saturday night. “And it was going to be really critical that we have continuity in the team that he has built.”

Senior Time Warner executives — including Warner Bros. Chairman Kevin Tsujihara in Burbank, HBO Chairman Richard Plepler in New York, and Turner Chairman John Martin in New York -- should be breathing easier. And Bewkes expects to hang around for some time, too.


“We have both been really focused on keeping all of the Time Warner executives — the business executives and the creative executives — going forward for the long term,” Bewkes said. 

The two companies anticipate that it will take more than a year for Washington regulators to review the benefits and shortcomings of the proposed merger before giving a thumbs-up or thumbs-down.

That means the Dallas telephone giant probably won’t take control of Time Warner until sometime in 2018.  Bewkes, 64, said he has agreed to step down — but only after a transition period of undetermined length.

“I would tell you that it’s open ended,” Stephenson said. “I really value Jeff, he’s a big part of this deal and having him as a part of this transition is really important.”


That’s a departure from other recent deals.

When Comcast acquired NBCUniversal in 2011, the Philadelphia cable TV giant moved swiftly to install a new group of leaders. Comcast executive Steve Burke immediately replaced Jeff Zucker as chief executive of NBCUniversal. (Now, Zucker runs CNN, which is owned by Time Warner.)

Charter Communications bought the much larger Time Warner Cable in May, but Time Warner Cable Chief Executive Rob Marcus left on Day 1.  (Time Warner Cable was a separate company from Time Warner Inc.).  This summer, when Comcast acquired DreamWorks Animation in a $3.8-billion takeover, a key provision of the agreement was for DreamWorks’ co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg to surrender the reins. Now, longtime Comcast executive Jeff Shell is responsible for DreamWorks Animation.

Bewkes and Stephenson plan to work out the terms of Bewkes’ departure in due course.

 “I plan to do this as long as I can help the company,” Bewkes said.

AT&T’s planned takeover could throw a wrench into the jockeying over who will succeed Bewkes as the next CEO of Time Warner properties. Internal speculation had centered on whether Plepler from HBO or Martin from Turner would win the prize. Now, there is a new candidate, with perhaps an inside track:  John Stankey, chief executive of the AT&T Entertainment Group, which includes El Segundo-based DirecTV.

Last year, Stankey immediately took over for Mike White, who had been running DirecTV, when AT&T bought the satellite TV company.




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