Warner Bros. is expected to commence layoffs of around 650 people starting Monday, according to people familiar with the matter, while HBO is seen shedding between 150 and 175 staffers. A WarnerMedia spokesman declined to comment.
The layoffs come after Kilar on Friday unveiled a significant reworking of the media company’s operations, ousting the top programming leaders at HBO Max, Robert Greenblatt and Kevin Reilly and rolling all over WarnerMedia’s production operations into a single operation. In their place, Kilar put Warner Bros. chief Ann Sarnoff in charge of developing content for the new streaming service as well as the company’s big entertainment focused basic-cable networks: TNT, TBS and truTV. Andy Forssell, general manager of HBO Max, was put in charge of the new entity’s business operations.
Other media companies have begun to shed staff as they grapple not only with the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, but also a rush of consumers from linear television to on-demand streaming video. NBCUniversal, the Comcast-owned media giant, has been enacting staff reductions in recent days. That company has wrestled with economic headwinds spurred by theme-park closures, limits on content production and a downturn in advertising. And earlier this week, it announced it would elevate a single executive, Frances Berwick, to manage content for streaming, cable and broadcast venues while seeking a new person to develop programming for all three.
The moves are likely to cause anxiety at WarnerMedia, which has reorganized several areas of its business since being acquired by AT&T for about $85 billion in 2018. Since AT&T took over the company formerly known as Time Warner, top executives with years of oversight of distribution, programming and advertising sales have departed. Kilar’s ascension to the CEO role in May has only served to fuel more recalibration.
AT&T bought the company with an eye towards extending its corporate tendrils into the production of content, and executives pressed hard to utilize Time Warner’s HBO service as the center of a new, broader streaming-video outlet that features high-polish series such as “Succession” and “Watchmen” but also broader fare like reruns of “Friends” and the new Seth Rogen comedy vehicle “An American Pickle.”
The task has not been an easy one. AT&T took on significant debut to fuel its purchase and the industry’s so-called “streaming wars” have attracted many powerful entities to the fray. Comcast has also launched an NBCUniversal service, Peacock, in recent months, and ViacomCBS and Discovery have indicated they intend to join the battle more fully in weeks to come.
As the media sector focuses more intently on satisfying customers with an on-demand jones for their favorite series, they are winnowing down their operations and working on ways to manage the availability of their series across different viewing “windows.” In time, that could mean new emphasis on prompting a viewer to watch both linear TV and streaming for content related to the same series or special, and less of a reliance on separate groups of employees assigned to manage specific media venues.