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AT&T CEO John Stankey Reveals Strategy Behind WarnerMedia’s 2021 Film Slate Decision

Stephanie Sengwe

WarnerMedia has dominated the news waves over the course of the last week because of their decision to bring their 2021 film slate to HBO Max the same day they hit theaters. Theatrical distributors immediately expressed their disappointment in the media conglomerate’s decision and earlier this morning, notable film director Christopher Nolan added his voice from a creative’s perspective.

In an effort to quell tempers, WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar responded to everyone’s reactions last week saying the decision was simply a result of the pandemic. Kilar told CNBC, “Everyone should take a breather. Let’s let the next six, eight, ten months play out. And then let’s check back in. Certainly this is pandemic-related. That’s why we’re doing it. We haven’t spent one brain cell on what the world looks like in 2022. I learned long ago not to make statements over a year from now.”

“I have conviction that for the next several decades there will be a very large volume of consumers worldwide that will choose on any given night, especially a Friday or Saturday night, to go out to a theater to be entertained by a great Warner Brothers movie,” he stated.

During the UBS Global TMT Conference today, AT&T CEO John Stankey further explained the company’s decision. “One of the unfortunate effects of the pandemic is there basically has been no theatrical exhibition business, and yet, in our case, we still have a fair amount of content that was in the pipeline and being developed…We have everybody in the industry doing the same thing which is, in many instances having the inability to take that product out to the consumer,” he explained.

“When we stepped back and looked back at what we did and trying some different models this year…we had some data points and experience that said what works and doesn’t work…Our feeling was that in the theatrical business—based on our discussions with experts—we were going to be in a situation where the psyche of the population, people’s willingness to go into large venues, that’s going to be a prolonged recovery…We think getting the product out in the market in a staged way is important because snowplowing all theatrical content into late 2021 or early 2022 probably isn’t going to help anybody because the market isn’t going to dramatically increase. We think smoothing that out is in the best interest of not only our product, but those who create so they get exposure.”

As far as the waves created by WarnerMedia’s announcement, Stankey believes it’s all par for the course. “Any time you’re going to change a model, it creates a degree of noise and this is certainly no exception. I think ultimately, rational parties will step back and look at this and say giving theater owners a predictable release of content over the next several months that they can plan around is a good thing for them,” he concluded.

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