Shares of AT&T were off more than 3% in midday trading Monday after the company unveiled its plans to restructure its WarnerMedia unit.
The stock dip takes place on a day when the Dow Jones Industrial Average is off more than 300 points. Share of the telecommunications giant fell $1.08 per share to $29.76 from $30.95 at the open.
As part of the re-organization, HBO CEO Richard Plepler and Turner President David Levy will leave the company, while former NBC Entertainment chief Robert Greenblatt will join. Many of the Turner cable network will be redeployed in units aimed at particular audiences: CNN, HLN and Turner Sports will form the bulk of a division that makes live programming, while Cartoon Network will move to Warner Brothers to add heft to a content business aimed at families and adults.
One analyst suggested the moves would make WarnerMedia more competitive at a time when media companies are increasingly focused on reaching consumers through broadband connections and streaming video. “We see this restructuring as a positive, as it moves WarnerMedia away from the outdated siloed approach to content creation, towards a structure similar to Disney and NBC Universal,” said CFRA Research analyst Keith Snyder, in a Monday note.
Some Wall Street observers questioned the moves. “there is nothing more critical in a media company than talent and the personal relationships that talent brings. It therefore follows that retaining talent is job one. In this regard, AT&T starts with one strike against them,” said Craig Moffett, an analyst with independent firm MoffettNathanson, in a research note issued Monday. “The cultures of a phone company and a media company couldn’t be more different, and one can imagine that WarnerMedia executives were therefore already on edge. Last week’s departures, and the news this morning of further restructuring, must therefore be viewed through the lens of a talent workforce that at best was nervous and at worst had one foot out the door. This will play to their worst fears.”
The analyst acknowledged AT&T has need to restructure WarnerMedia to help it achieve operational synergies, but wondered whether the departure of the key executives would hurt the company’s ability to create and distribute the content that gives it distinction in the marketplace.