Your HBO Is Going to See Some Big Changes Now That AT&T Owns It. Critics Aren’t So Sure They’ll Be Good

July 9, 2018, 11:02 AM UTC

Your HBO might soon be a little different.

At least if new owner AT&T (T) has its way.

Noting that “it’s going to be a tough year,” said John Stankey, the new CEO of Warner Media and person responsible for overseeing HBO. Stankey told HBO employees at a recent town hall that the premium cable network is going to “change direction a little bit.”

According to a recording of the town hall obtained by The New York Times, Stankey emphasized the need to expand both in content and subscribers, without losing the identity of the network that has long been associated with quality.

“We need hours a day,” Stankey told the employees present, noting that HBO will need to create more content.

“I want more hours of engagement. Why are more hours of engagement important?” he continued. “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.”

The network will also have to capture a larger share of the U.S. audience as part of its new strategy. Stankey suggested that the goal is to “become a much more common product,” which will require moving “beyond 35-to-40% penetration.”

Ultimately, Stankey said that “there’s got to be a little more depth” to the HBO brand, with “more frequent engagement.” But in order to do so, HBO must build out the brand “so that it’s broad enough to make that happen.”

While Richard Plepler, HBO’s CEO noted that he still believes that “more isn’t better, only better is better,” he also conceded that the network will “need a lot more to be even better.” And although the two executives appeared committed to maintaining the quality of its programming, many TV critics are skeptical.

Critics who write for everyone from Rolling Stone and the New Yorker to The New York Times took to Twitter to share their doubts, with the New Yorker‘s Emily Nussbaum summing it up, writing, “This sounds bad all around. “Engagement” is apparently the new “content.” To my ear, this suggests 26 Reasons Why, not Enlightened. HBO isn’t perfect, but it’s not just pouring out fungible hours and clicks.”