By Helen Coster and Kenneth Li
(Reuters) – AT&T Inc <T.N> on Wednesday named Jason Kilar, former head of video streaming platform Hulu, as chief executive officer of its WarnerMedia unit starting in May, when it plans to launch its HBO Max service to compete with streaming heavyweights Netflix and Disney+.
Kilar’s appointment underscores how important winning the streaming wars is for the U.S. telecoms giant as Americans stay indoors to avoid catching or spreading the coronavirus. Time spent on streaming services has surged over the past few weeks and jumped 50% for the week of March 16 compared with a year ago, according to Nielsen.
Kilar was recruited from Amazon.com Inc <AMZN.O> to be the founding CEO of Hulu from 2007 until 2013.
His focus on the user experience at Hulu was credited as a main reason for the service’s early success. The site’s clean interface and reduced load of advertising appealed to viewers but drew criticism from some of its media partners that included NBCUniversal and News Corp’s Fox.
The top WarnerMedia job “requires a lot of inventing and it requires a lot of listening to what consumers are telling you and then doing the invention on their behalf,” Kilar told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday. “And those are skill sets that thankfully I have developed over the last several decades.”
Kilar said his goal is to look for “what would make for a great experience that doesn’t exist today with regards to telling stories, informing people, and entertaining them in new and different ways.”
The move is significant because AT&T chose to hire externally rather than tap one of its own executives. Jeff Zucker, CNN president who runs all news and sports at WarnerMedia, had been seen as a potential candidate.
The company is betting heavily on its forthcoming streaming service, HBO Max, which will compete against rivals Netflix Inc <NFLX.O> and Walt Disney Co’s <DIS.N> Disney+.
Kilar will report to John Stankey, who in October became AT&T Chief Operating Officer while continuing to run WarnerMedia. Stankey has been seen as heir apparent to AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson.
(Reporting by Helen Coster and Kenneth Li in New York and Ayanti Bera in Bengaluru; Editing by Aditya Soni, Kenneth Li, David Gregorio and Marguerita Choy)