Academy Award-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney said he is “concerned” about the future of HBO under new leadership, less than three months after the finalization of AT&T’s (T) acquisition of Time Warner, the parent company of HBO.
In February, longtime HBO CEO Richard Plepler resigned, just two days after the U.S. Justice Department withdrew its effort to block the acquisition following a loss in court. Plepler was set to lose independent control of the premium television company, CNBC reported, citing people familar with the matter.
“Richard was a great executive and presided over a tremendous outburst of creativity at HBO,” Gibney says. “Of course, when somebody like that leaves you are concerned.”
When AT&T acquired Time Warner last June, renaming the company Warner Media, new CEO John Stankey said he planned to increase the output of content at HBO. “We now need to figure out how to expand the aperture of it without losing the quality,” Stankey said in June.
“As for the future, it’s hard to say. AT&T has made it known it wants to be on more platforms and so forth,” says Gibney, who recently released a documentary on HBO about Elizabeth Holmes called “The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley.”
In March, after the deal was finalized and Plepler resigned, WarnerMedia hired former chairman at NBC Entertainment Robert Greenblatt to run the entertainment division WarnerMedia Entertainment, which includes HBO, TBS, TNT, and truTV.
Gibney made the remarks to Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer in a conversation that aired on Yahoo Finance on Thursday at 5 p.m. EST in an episode of “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment.
In 2005, Gibney came to prominence with “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” an Oscar-nominated documentary on the fall of Enron. He won an Oscar a few years later, in 2008, for “Taxi to the Dark Side,” which examined the U.S. torture program during the Afghanistan war.
Recently, Gibney produced the Netflix documentary series “Dirty Money” and directed “The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley,” which was released by HBO in March. His latest documentary examines Theranos, a now-defunct blood-testing startup that prosecutors allege was a fraud.
“Will the executives ... care more about the quality of the content than the proverbial bottom line?”
Gibney said the future of streaming television and movies will be determined by the emphasis placed on artistic product.
“My only concern is will the executives at the top—at HBO or at Netflix or anywhere—care more about the quality of the content than the proverbial bottom line?”
Because Netflix targets specific demographics with its content, the company can produce unique programming for niche audiences, Gibney said.
“One of the interesting things about Netflix, provided it doesn't go too far, is that they perceived audiences not as a mass audience, but as communities of interest,” he says. “They could make money by focusing on a smaller number of eyeballs, but that those people would look at those things faithfully.”
“That’s exploded for Netflix,” he adds.
Andy Serwer is editor-in-chief of Yahoo Finance.