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Apple TV Plus just hired the boss who turned HBO into a powerhouse

Richard Plepler was the CEO of HBO for years but left the company abruptly months after AT&T took it over.

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Richard Plepler left HBO after AT&T took over the network's parent, Time Warner. 

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Apple has sealed a five-year production deal with Richard Plepler, the longtime head of HBO who ushered the network to critical and popular dominance with hits like Game of Thrones. The agreement is for Plepler's new company to make TV series, documentaries and feature films exclusively for Apple TV Plus, the new streaming video service that launched in November. 

"Apple is one of the most creative companies in the world, and the perfect home for my new production company and next chapter," Plepler said Thursday in a statement provided by Apple as the company confirmed the deal. The news was initially reported in an interview with The New York Times

Plepler oversaw HBO's rise as it dominated awards ceremonies and audience ratings, most recently with blockbuster hits like Game of Thrones. He also spearheaded HBO as a pioneer in TV's transition to direct-to-consumer streaming subscriptions. HBO was one of the first traditional networks to make its programming available online to people who subscribed directly to its app, rather than requiring a regular pay TV subscription. 

He abruptly resigned from HBO as AT&T began to exert more control over the network following its takeover of HBO's parent, Time Warner, in an $85 billion deal. The Department of Justice lost its appeal in early 2019 to unwind the merger, lifting the final question marks over AT&T's full control. Plepler left HBO days later.  

The move adds a new thread to the knot of streaming services launching to take on Netflix, sometimes referred to as the streaming wars. Besides Apple's new service, Disney launched its highly anticipated service Disney Plus in November. NBC is slated to release its Peacock streaming service in April, and AT&T will be launching its own competitor based on Plepler's former network in May, a $15-a-month offering called HBO Max.