The television industry has been bombarded with curveballs this year, from programming cancellations, delays and ad revenue evaporation prompted by Covid-19 to the acceleration of changing consumer habits. Now add another seismic shift to the list: an unprecedented changing of the guard in the upper echelons of television’s biggest companies.
Within the last three months, Disney, NBCUniversal, ViacomCBS and WarnerMedia have all overhauled and restructured their organizations to position streaming at the center of their businesses. Even streaming native Netflix, which has had a better-than-expected year, has seen changes at the top of its television programming unit amid a streamlining that will put a larger focus on global programming.
The reasoning is simple. Companies are streamlining their sometimes labyrinthine organizations to better weather the new business reality of streaming, the importance of which has been made clear with back-to-back debuts of new services. As a ripple effect of those new products and an unavoidable effect of the continued consolidation of media, the overhauls happening in media’s highest ranks reflect the inevitability of change as companies look to cut costs, unify across ever-broadening portfolios and keep customers and advertisers satisfied.
“The signal is clear that streaming is clearly the path forward,” said Jason Kanefsky, chief investment officer at Havas Media. “As revenue continues to erode from traditional advertising and affiliate fees diminish as cord-cutting accelerates, streaming—whether it be on an owned platform or a pay-to-play platform—is the not-so-distant future.”
The most recent instance of an overhaul was at ViacomCBS, where executives elevated Pluto TV CEO Tom Ryan last week to lead the company’s collection of free and paid streaming services. That elevation also led to the eventual exit of longtime digital officer Marc DeBevoise, who had overseen CBS All Access’ growth from a nascent streamer to one that housed high-profile originals like The Good Fight and Star Trek: Picard. That move, of course, came less than two years after Viacom acquired Pluto TV and less than a year after Viacom and CBS’ own merger.
A week before that, Disney—now helmed by newly minted CEO Bob Chapek—brought the company’s distribution and commercialization arms, including ad sales and streamers like Disney+, under a single media and entertainment distribution group headed by Disney consumer products and publishing veteran Kareem Daniel.
Those fall upheavals were preceded by considerable summer reorganizations. In August, WarnerMedia, headed by new CEO Jason Kilar, executed a wide-ranging overhaul that saw the departures of longtime chairman Bob Greenblatt and content chief Kevin Reilly. It also gave expanded roles to HBO programming president Casey Bloys and Otter CEO Tony Goncalves.
In the same week as WarnerMedia’s restructuring, NBCUniversal had its own overhaul. This saw the departure of NBC Entertainment chairman Paul Telegdy, an elevated role for Peacock chairman Matt Strauss and a unification of its entertainment segment.
TV companies have made their focus on streaming loud and clear since they raced to build all-purpose streamers to account for consumer shifts to over-the-top and on-demand viewing. And in the wake of massive acquisitions, they’re also looking to cut costs.
ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish promised that hundreds of millions in “cost synergies” were coming following the ViacomCBS merger. AT&T also laid out a three-year plan to reach $1.5 billion cost synergies following its 2018 acquisition of Time Warner (now WarnerMedia). Disney, which acquired Fox in March 2019 and has since moved to rearrange Hulu and Fox assets to fit within its own portfolio (and prompted its own executive shuffles), saw similar changes.