The Departure of HBO's Boss Reveals AT&T's Plan for Empire

WIRED | 3/13/2019 | Susan Crawford
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Years ago, I happened to be in a meeting between HBO's now-exited head Richard Plepler and a group of students. One of the youngsters, bubbling over with creative zeal, asked Plepler for advice about launching a new cable channel. Plepler's hands were on the table in front of him, relaxed and powerful, and I noticed he was wearing a wide gold mesh bracelet on one very tan wrist. He responded, a bit fiercely, "Come to HBO." His message was that trying to reach the public with an independent content enterprise was basically hopeless, and that anyone starting something new would be best off under his empire's protection.

Susan Crawford (@scrawford) is an Ideas contributor for WIRED, a professor at Harvard Law School, and the author of Fiber: The Coming Tech Revolution—and Why America Might Miss It.

Plepler - HBO - Run - Meeting - AT

When Plepler said recently that he would be leaving HBO after an enormously successful 27-year run, I remembered that meeting. AT&T—which just six years ago was a pure telecom company (half wireless, half wired)—was taking over, and dozens of stories pointed to Plepler's loss of autonomy and creative control as the reason for his departure.

I think there's a structural heft to the story that goes beyond the personal. AT&T wants, ultimately, to out-Netflix Netflix, increasingly selling exclusive content—and more of it—directly to consumers.

AT - T - Plepler - Assertion - Students

AT&T is essentially taking Plepler's assertion to those students that long-ago day—"You won't succeed without me"—up a level, in order to match the power of juggernauts Netflix, Amazon, and soon Disney. AT&T's move signals that to start a new branded content enterprise, you'll need to be part of an enormous, epic bundle that is either integrated into a distribution powerhouse (think AT&T and Comcast) or so ginormous that the distribution powerhouses have to take it seriously and allow it to reach consumers undisturbed. All...
(Excerpt) Read more at: WIRED
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