John Donovan, CEO of AT&T Communications, announced today his plans to retire effective October 1, 2019. Donovan has for the past two years led AT&T’s largest business unit, which services 100 million mobile, broadband and pay-TV customers in the U.S., as well as millions of business customers, including nearly all the Fortune 1000.
The news comes amid several big changes in that business unit itself, and more in the broader telecom industry.
For starters, AT&T had just rebranded its over-the-top streaming service DIRECTV NOW to AT&T TV NOW, and just last week rolled out a brand-new TV service, AT&T TV, in 10 test markets.
While DIRECTV NOW (aka AT&T TV NOW) is meant to compete with other over-the-top streaming services like Dish’s Sling TV, Hulu with Live TV, YouTube TV and others, the new AT&T TV is a more conventional — though still “over-the-top” — option that can work with any broadband connection.
However, it locks in customers to two-year contracts, requires a set-top box, and has packages that range from $60-$80 per month, much like a traditional TV subscription.
Elsewhere at AT&T, its WarnerMedia division is working a streaming service of its own, HBO Max, which is meant to battle more directly with premium offerings, like Disney+ or Apple TV+, for example. AT&T also operates a low-cost streaming service, Watch TV.
And the company continues to offer pay-TV offerings like DIRECTV (satellite service) and U-verse (cable).
It seems AT&T is due to consolidate these efforts at some point, and Donovan’s departure could signal some changes on that front, perhaps. Plus, as The WSJ reported, Donovan and WarnerMedia head John Stankey had a strained relationship at times. That could because HBO Max will end up competing with other AT&T offerings and services, the report suggested.
In addition to its various streaming ambitions, AT&T is also starting to roll out 5G, a move Donovan spearheaded. The company is also preparing for competition from new players, including what arises from a T-Mobile/Sprint merger, and from Dish’s plans to enter the wireless market.
Donovan had been CEO of AT&T Communications for two years, after having originally joined the company as CTO in 2008. Prior to his CEO role starting in July 2017, he had been promoted to AT&T’s Chief Strategy Officer and Group President—AT&T Technology and Operations.
He had also previously worked at Verisign, Deloitte Consulting, and InCode Telecom Group.
Donovan, 58, was nearing the company’s retirement age of 60, but his departure was still unexpected, The WSJ also said.
“It’s been my honor to lead AT&T Communications during a period of unprecedented innovation and investment in new technology that is revolutionizing how people connect with their worlds,” said John Donovan, in a statement. “All that we’ve accomplished is a credit to the talented women and men of AT&T, and their passion for serving our customers. I’m looking forward to the future – spending more time with my family and watching with pride as the AT&T team continues to set the pace for the industry.”
“JD is a terrific leader and a tech visionary who helped drive AT&T’s leadership in connecting customers, from our 5G, fiber and FirstNet buildouts, to new products and platforms, to setting the global standard for software-defined networks,” added Randall Stephenson, AT&T’s chairman and CEO. “He led the way in encouraging his team to continuously innovate and develop their skill sets for the future. We greatly appreciate his many contributions to our company’s success and his untiring dedication to serving customers and making our communities better. JD is a good friend, and I wish him and his family all the best in the years ahead.”
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