'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 anticipate a tough year to come at the company.

  • "You will work very hard, and this next year will — my wife hates it when I say this — feel like childbirth," he said to 150 HBO employees at a recent town hall.

  • Stankey said that HBO needs to increase its subscriber base and get bigger and broader to compete.

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

That was the message that Warner Media CEO John Stankey gave to 150 HBO employees at a recent company town hall, according to a recording that the New York Times obtained.

"It's going to be a tough year," Stankey said. "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 "you're going to be working a little bit harder," Stankey ratcheted up the pain level that HBO employees should expect.

"You will work very hard, and this next year will — my wife hates it when I say this — feel like childbirth," Stankey said. "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 town hall statements seemed different in tone to previous comments from AT&T executives.

"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 Bros., which is run independently from Turner, and it’s been a very good model."

HBO CEO Richard Plepler, who hosted the town hall with Stankey, previously stressed the importance of AT&T staying out HBOs 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, he said HBO will need to transform, offering bigger and broader content to boost engagement.

"I want more hours of engagement," he said. "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."

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