Timeline of WarnerMedia’s Road to Discovery spin-off deal


Warner Media belonged to the telecommunications giant AT&T for less than four years and it will soon have a new parent company, probably by the end of next month.

DiscoveryThe shareholder vote on the WarnerMedia acquisition is scheduled for today at a special meeting of shareholders at 10 a.m. ET. The deal is expected to be easily approved given the approval already granted by Discovery’s oldest and most influential holders, investor John Malone and Advance/Newhouse Co. Both have agreed to convert preferred shares held from long-standing in common stock in order to smooth the path for the derivative combination.

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As Discovery conducts a mostly ceremonial shareholder survey, AT&T signals the start of a new chapter. The telecommunications giant will host a virtual investor conference alongside the vote to unveil its post-spin-off strategy. The push toward entertainment was initiated by the previous regime led by former AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson. Since then, his successor, John Stankey, has cleaned up the debt and the destruction.

Stankey has hedged its bets by offloading WarnerMedia with a deal that gives control to the Discovery camp but leaves its shareholders 71% of the expanded company.

Nevertheless, AT&T’s short but eventful management of Warner Bros., HBO, CNN and the Turner Networks is close. Here’s a look back at the key moments of AT&T’s bumpy ride in Hollywood.

2016

October 20 – The first report reveals, in the Wall Street Journal, that AT&T is in advanced talks to acquire time warning.

October 22 – AT&T unveils an agreement to acquire Time Warner for $85.4 billion.

November 9 – Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has repeatedly criticized CNN and vowed to block the acquisition of AT&T, is elected President of the United States.

2017

February 15 – Time Warner shareholders approve merger with AT&T.

Feb. 28 – FCC Chairman Ajit Pai declines to review the AT&T-Time Warner merger, forwarding the decision to the Justice Department.

Nov. 8 – AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson and Makan Delrahim, head of the Justice Department’s antitrust division, meet to discuss recommendations for AT&T to divest DirecTV or Turner Broadcasting to allay antitrust concerns.

November 20 – The Department of Justice files a lawsuit to block the acquisition of AT&T-Time Warner. The federal government said the deal would “greatly harm American consumers.” AT&T lambastes the Trump administration for its “radical and inexplicable departure from decades of antitrust precedent.”

December 22 — Shareholders vote to extend the deadline for the merger agreement to June 21, 2018.

2018

March 19 – Antitrust trial begins before U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon in Washington, D.C.

April 18 – Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes testifies, challenging the business case for the government’s thesis that the larger company would deny its content to rival distributors. “We want to be on all platforms. We want to be in every lot, everywhere,” he told Judge Leon.

April 19 – AT&T’s Stephenson testifies, explaining AT&T’s sense of urgency to acquire a major content studio. “If you miss a tech cycle, it might not kill you, but it will make you sick for a very long time,” he told Judge Leon.

May 23 – AT&T’s Stephenson causes a stir at Time Warner by telling an investor conference that HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’ episodes could be better in a mobile experience if they were hacked at 20 minutes each.

June 12 — Judge Leon rules in favor of AT&T, going so far as to say that a government appeal would lead to “certain irreparable harm to the defendants.”

June 14 — AT&T announces the closing of its transaction to acquire Time Warner. Jeff Bewkes is replaced by John Stankey as CEO of Time Warner.

June 15 – AT&T renames Time Warner to WarnerMedia.

July 12 – Justice Department files appeal in AT&T antitrust case.

September 25 – AT&T launches Xandr advertising and analytics arm.

October 10 – WarnerMedia reveals plans to launch a streaming service in 2019.

Dec. 14 – HBO Max’s first stirrings take shape when TNT and TBS president Kevin Reilly is promoted to director of digital content and subscriptions for WarnerMedia.

2019

February 26 – The United States Court of Appeals in Washington, DC unanimously upholds the decision in favor of the AT&T-Time Warner deal.

Feb. 28 – Longtime Turner executive David Levy and longtime HBO executive Richard Plepler abruptly leave the company amid rumors of a massive AT&T-drive restructuring to come.

March 4 – AT&T reveals major reorganization: Bob Greenblatt joins as president of WarnerMedia Entertainment and direct-to-consumer. Warner Bros. Chairman and CEO Kevin Tsujihara adds oversight of global children’s and young adult businesses. CNN chief Jeff Zucker has been promoted to president of news and sports for WarnerMedia, taking over oversight of regional networks from Turner Sports and AT&T.

March 18 – Warner Bros.’ Tsujihara quits abruptly following a scandal over his relationship with an aspiring actress.

June 24 – BBC Studios Americas president Ann Sarnoff is named president and CEO of Warner Bros.

July 9 – WarnerMedia reveals that its streaming service will be called HBO Max.

Aug. 22 – Sarnoff officially begins his tenure as head of Warner Bros.

September 3 – Stankey is promoted to president and chief operating officer of AT&T.

Sept. 12 – WarnerMedia signs JJ Abrams to a massive production deal valued at $500 million, demonstrating AT&T’s commitment to keeping the studio in the big leagues.

2020

April 1 – Former Hulu chief Jason Kilar is named CEO of WarnerMedia.

April 21 – WarnerMedia sets the launch date for HBO Max to May 27, priced at $14.99 per month.

April 24 – Stephenson announces he will step down as CEO of AT&T on July 1, with Stankey as his successor.

April 30 — Xandr is integrated into WarnerMedia.

May 27 – HBO Max launches amid the pandemic.

August 7 – In a massive management shake-up, Reilly, Greenblatt and WarnerMedia’s head of corporate communications, Keith Cocozza, leave the company. Warner Bros.’ Sarnoff is promoted to oversee the newly expanded content group. HBO Programming President Casey Bloys adds programming oversight at HBO Max and WarnerMedia’s basic cable companies.

Aug. 10 – AT&T begins laying off 800 employees, mostly from Warner and HBO.

Oct. 8 – WarnerMedia announces plans to cut 1,000 jobs to cut costs by at least 20% in response to lower profits taken during the COVID-19 pandemic.

November 18 – Warner Bros. announces that “Wonder Woman 1984” will debut on HBO Max on December 25, the same day it opens in U.S. theaters.

December 3 – Warner Bros. announces that its entire 2021 slate — a 17-film slate that includes blockbusters like ‘Matrix Resurrections’ and Denis Villeneuve’s ‘Dune’ remake — will debut both on HBO Max and in theaters on their respective release dates .

2021

January 25 – Stephenson officially retires.

May 16 – Bloomberg News reports that AT&T is in advanced talks with Discovery to enter into a spin-off deal for WarnerMedia, with Discovery CEO David Zaslav leading the expanded company.

May 17 – Stankey and Discovery CEO David Zaslav officially announces the proposed $43 billion merger.

June 1 – Discovery sets Warner Bros. Discovery as the name of the merged company.

June 23 — Electronic Arts buys Playdemic from Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment for $1.4 billion.

September 13 – Fox Corp. acquires TMZ from WarnerMedia.

December 21 – AT&T announces plans to sell Xandr to Microsoft.

December 22 — The European Commission approves the Discovery-WarnerMedia agreement.

2022

Jan. 5 – Reports emerge that WarnerMedia and ViacomCBS are considering a possible sale of a majority stake in the CW network with Nexstar Media Group as the lead potential buyer.

Feb. 1 – AT&T decides to spin off WarnerMedia rather than structure the deal as a spinoff.

February 9 – The Department of Justice approves the Discovery-WarnerMedia merger.

February 10 – Discovery sets March 11 for a shareholder vote on the merger.

March 2 – AT&T sets March 11 for an investor pitch day.

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