In October 2016, AT&T said it would pay some $85 billion for Time Warner and praised the company’s leadership as “second to none.”
Now we are going to find out what Time Warner is worth without that leadership: Less than a year after AT&T’s deal to buy the entertainment giant, all of the men who ran the company have left or are leaving.
- Former Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes, who was supposed to stick around the combined company for a transition period, left almost immediately after the deal closed.
- John Martin, who ran Time Warner’s Turner TV unit and at one point was supposed to be a successor to Bewkes, left the day the deal closed.
- Richard Plepler, who ran HBO, announced that he was leaving last month.
- And now Kevin Tsujihara, who ran the Warner Bros film and TV studio, is out in the wake of a damning Hollywood Reporter story that laid bare Tsujihara’s relationship with an actress he had been dating and his offers to help her find roles.
“Kevin acknowledges that his mistakes are inconsistent with the Company’s leadership expectations and could impact the Company’s ability to execute going forward,” said AT&T executive John Stankey, who now oversees what is called WarnerMedia, in a press release. AT&T hasn’t named a replacement for Tsujihara.
There isn’t a through line to all of these moves. No one expected Martin to stay, and Bewkes wasn’t supposed to be hanging out at his old company forever, though his departure came much quicker than insiders had thought.
Plepler, however, was supposed to guide HBO as it bulked up with additional resources from its new owners. But he didn’t want to sign on for AT&T’s plan to combine his premium pay TV network with Turner’s less prestigious cable TV offerings, and AT&T executives didn’t express much disappointment when he left.
And through all of those changes, Tsujihara survived and got more responsibility: In a reorg announced earlier this month, he was also put in charge of a “new global kids and young adults business.”
AT&T and Time Warner had previously endorsed Tsujihara despite earlier reporting by the Reporter’s Kim Masters that noted “worrisome industry chatter about the social activities of Warner Bros. chairman and CEO Kevin Tsujihara.”
But a March 6 story by Masters and her colleague Tatiana Siegel, published two days after AT&T announced Tsujihara’s promotion, made it almost certain that Tsujihara couldn’t survive. This headline said it all: “‘I Need to Be Careful’: Texts Reveal Warner Bros. CEO Promoted Actress Amid Apparent Sexual Relationship.”
AT&T says it is continuing to investigate Tsujihara, “with his cooperation.”
Some of the men — and they were all men — who had top jobs at Time Warner are still there, and a few are moving up. Jeff Zucker, for instance, who had previously run CNN, now runs Turner’s sports and entertainment group as well (David Levy, who had previously run that unit, also got reorged out this month). And Casey Bloys, who had run HBO’s programming under Plepler for the last year or so, is still there.
It is entirely possible that Time Warner/Warner Media will do fine with a new group of people running the company, working for a phone company that has next-to-no experience in the media business. A lot of the value of Time Warner comes from the library of content it has already created, and existing deals to distribute that content as well as other stuff that’s already in the pipeline.
On the other hand, if I thought something was worth $85 billion and I didn’t have any experience in the industry it had dominated, I would want to work hard to keep the people who had helped make it worth $85 billion. And it would worry me if many of them had left soon after I wrote that whopping check.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.