The longtime AT&T executive was named on Tuesday to be the company’s president and chief operating officer, a move aimed at bolstering the telecommunications giant’s ranks in the wake of the announced retirement of John Donovan, the head of AT&T Communications who was long seen as the company’s No. 2 executive. Stankey will continue to run WarnerMedia, but will now have oversight of AT&T’s ad-tech unit, Xandr, and the AT&T Communications unit, which includes DirecTV and the company’s wireless operations.
The move would seem to set Stankey up as a potential successor to Randall Stephenson, AT&T’s Chairman & CEO. ““Now is the time to more tightly align our collection of world-class content, scaled consumer relationships, technical know-how and innovative advertising technology,” said Stephenson, in a prepared statement. “It’s the natural next step in bringing together the distinct and complimentary capabilities of AT&T Communications, WarnerMedia and Xandr to deliver for consumers the benefits of a modern media company.”
Jeff McElfresh, who has served as president of technology and operations at AT&T Communications, will take over that unit and report to Stankey.
Stankey’s elevation will likely raise speculation that other executives at WarnerMedia may get additional responsibilities, given Stankey’s wider portfolio. WarnerMedia has parted ways with many of its most senior executives in recent months as AT&T has taken more control of the reins. Among those leaving include Richard Plepler, the former HBO chief; David Levy, the former Turner president who supervised advertising and affiliate sales and sports; and Kevin Tsujihara, the former Warner Brothers chief.
WarnerMedia brought former NBC Entertainment chief Robert Greenblatt on board in March to oversee HBO and Turner’s entertainment operations as well as efforts to launch HBO Max, a new streaming-video service that aims to add to the company’s already existing HBO streaming product. It also named former BBC Americas chief Ann Sarnoff to run Warner Brothers. Jeff Zucker, president of CNN Worldwide, was given additional duties overseeing WarnerMedia’s sports operations.
A WarnerMedia spokesman said no changes were expected in the company’s executive structure.