AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson spent 13 years in command of the company, building a wireless and telecom giant and then acquiring DirecTV and Time Warner. But in June 2020 Stephenson retired, and his longtime lieutenant, John Stankey, took over. Stankey immediately faced plummeting revenue from the company’s movie production unit owing to cinemas being closed during the pandemic. Initially, that made it easier for him to shift new movie releases to AT&T’s HBO Max streaming service, which added 7 million new U.S. subscribers in 2020 thanks to the arrival of blockbusters like Wonder Woman 1984 and hit shows like The Flight Attendant. Still, needing more money to fund AT&T’s costly expansion into 5G wireless, Stankey sold 30% of DirecTV to private equity firm TPG, raising $8 billion. And in May 2021, the company announced its plans to spin off its WarnerMedia assets and merge them with Discovery—a stunning strategic about-face that represents an almost complete withdrawal from the “content” business.
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