Paul Harris discusses AT&T
AT&T Inc. named Jason Kilar the new head of WarnerMedia, placing a technology veteran in charge of one of Hollywood’s biggest media companies just a month ahead of the launch of its new streaming service.
Kilar, the former head of online video company Hulu LLC, will become chief executive officer of WarnerMedia on May 1. He will report to John Stankey, AT&T’s chief operating officer, who had held Kilar’s new role.
Hiring Kilar is a clear sign that AT&T believes Hollywood’s future is on the internet, and not in traditional cable or movie theaters. WarnerMedia is about to roll out HBO Max, a new streaming service that combines HBO programming, old Warner Bros. shows like “Friends” and “The West Wing,” and new original content.
There are few executives with more experience in video streaming than Kilar, who worked at Amazon.com Inc. for years before being approached about running Hulu, one of Hollywood’s first experiments in online video.
News Corp.’s Peter Chernin and NBC Universal’s Jeff Zucker conceived of Hulu as a place where people could watch last night’s broadcast TV shows online. Both men are now in AT&T’s orbit: Chernin has advised the company on its media dealings, while Zucker, the chairman of WarnerMedia’s news and sports division, will report to Kilar.
“His experience in media and entertainment, direct-to-consumer video streaming and advertising is the perfect fit for WarnerMedia,” Stankey said in a statement.
Hulu’s Growing Pains
Hulu drew tens of millions of viewers under Kilar, growing at a rate that rivaled Netflix’s -- for a while, at least. But Kilar and his board members fought over the company’s direction. Should Hulu be free or charge a subscription? Should it be a home for last night’s TV or commission original programming? Kilar ultimately left Hulu in 2013 to start the video streaming service Vessel, a competitor to YouTube.
“If the future of WarnerMedia is HBO Max, they just hired the best possible executive for the role,” said Rich Greenfield, an analyst at LightShed Partners.
WarnerMedia will rely on Kilar to help it catch up with Netflix, now the world’s largest online TV service, and newer competitors like Disney+ -- as well as a resurgent Hulu, now part of Walt Disney Co.
Kilar inherits an organization that has already seen years of turmoil. First, Time Warner agreed to sell itself to AT&T, a Texan phone company with little experience in media. Then the U.S. government sued to block the deal as anticompetitive. After AT&T finally took control of Time Warner, which it renamed WarnerMedia, it oversaw the rapid exodus of almost all of its senior leaders.
WarnerMedia is rolling out HBO Max at a time when the field gets more crowded by the month. NBCUniversal’s Peacock and the short-video platform Quibi are both launching in April.
Still, good programming should be able to stand out, the 48-year-old Kilar said in the statement.
“Stories well told have always mattered, and they matter even more in this challenging time for the world,” he said.