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HBO CEO and Chairman Richard Plepler and Turner President David Levy are stepping down, according to multiple media reports.

Why it matters: The move comes amid reports that NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt has been in talks with WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey for a position to oversee all of AT&T's media assets, including HBO, Turner and WarnerMedia’s news streaming service.

  • In a memo to staff, Plepler made it clear that it was his decision to step down from the company he's built his career at over the past 28 years. "Hard as it is to think about leaving the company I love, and the people I love in it, it is the right time for me to do so."

The big picture: The move comes as a surprise to industry heavyweights, as both Plepler and Levy are considered titans in their respective spaces. Last week, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said WarnerMedia would operate more independently than previous AT&T acquisitions.

Between the lines: Rumors emerged that Stephenson was looking to potentially combine the HBO and Turner units just as the government gave up on its effort to block the deal, following an appeals court ruling the went AT&T's way.

Be smart: It's likely that Plepler's resignation is tied to pressure coming from AT&T to make more, commoditized content. Last summer, the New York Times received an audio recording of AT&T executives' first meeting with HBO staffers. The recording included a terse exchange between WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey and Plepler over the network's production strategy.

“Also,” Mr. Stankey said, “we’ve got to make money at the end of the day, right?”
“We do that,” Mr. Plepler responded, to scattered applause.
“Yes, you do,” Mr. Stankey said. “Just not enough.”
“Oh, now, now, be careful,” Mr. Plepler said.

The Information was the first to report Levy's departure.

Editor's note: Axios has a show on HBO.

Go deeper

Updated 9 mins ago - Health

The coronavirus variants: What you need to know

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

New variants of the coronavirus circulating globally appear to increase transmission and are being closely monitored by scientists.

Driving the news: The highly contagious variant B.1.1.7 originally detected in the U.K. could become the dominant strain in the U.S. by March if no measures are taken to control the spread of the virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.

11 mins ago - World

Abbas announces first Palestinian elections in 15 years

Abbas is 85 and in the 15th year of a 4-year term. Abbas Momani/AFP via Getty

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas published a decree on Friday announcing the dates for parliamentary and presidential elections in the Palestinian Authority.

Why it matters: This is the first time in 15 years that such a decree has been published. The last presidential elections took place in 2005, with Abbas winning, and the last parliamentary elections took place in 2006, with Hamas winning.

Updated 17 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus deaths reach 4,000 per day as hospitals remain in crisis mode — America has tuned out the coronavirus at the peak of its destruction — 1 in 3 people in L.A. County believed to have been infected with coronavirus.
  2. Politics: Biden taps ex-FDA chief to lead Operation Warp Speed amid rollout of COVID plan— Widow of GOP congressman-elect who died of COVID-19 will run to fill his seat — Joe Biden will seek nearly $2 trillion in COVID relief spending.
  3. Vaccine: Battling Black mistrust of the vaccines"Pharmacy deserts" could become vaccine deserts — Instacart to give $25 to shoppers who get vaccine.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode againFed chair: No interest rate hike coming any time soon —  Inflation rose more than expected in December.
  5. World: WHO team arrives in China to investigate pandemic origins.

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