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AT&T CEO Says WarnerMedia Sale Necessary to “Unleash” Media Assets

Michael King

AT&T CEO John Stankey declared Monday morning that HBO Max would not be where it is today without WarnerMedia being a part of the media giant.

Stankey’s statement came during a virtual appearance at J.P. Morgan’s 49th annual Technology, Media and Communications Conference. His declaration came despite the fact that HBO Max won’t be under the AT&T umbrella for much longer, following last week’s announcement of the blockbuster $43 million merger of WarnerMedia and Discovery that’s expected to close around the middle of 2022.

The streaming service has rolled past the 44 million subscriber mark in the United States since its launch about a year ago.

Stankey said that direct-to-consumer streaming would be a “global opportunity” for the communications company, but as of this point, wireless and broadband services for AT&T remain largely based in the United States.

“As a result of that, when you look at the opportunity to grow a fantastic subscriber base,” he said, “we kind of looked at this and said, ‘it’s time to unleash the media assets to go and seize a multi-hundred-billion-dollar opportunity,’” referring to HBO Max.

Stankey said that he believes the new WarnerMedia-Discovery will be able to effectively compete with the streaming behemoths like Netflix and Disney, both of which have a strong international presence, and are continuing to grow.

“I do believe they’ll get over the hump,” Stankey said. “They will have opportunities to think about other things they distribute on that platform.”

AT&T had already moved to spin-off consumer satellite distributor DirecTV last year, with private equity firm TPG taking on 30% of the distributor, while AT&T retained the remainder.

According to an article in Deadline, the two deals made AT&T’s “retreat from the media business official and represented losses to AT&T shareholders in the tens of billions of dollars.”

AT&T, according to Stankey, is going to refocus on fixed and mobile connectivity — a business sector that accounts for three-quarters of the company’s total revenue. During the three years that AT&T has held WarnerMedia, AT&T has had such a broad set of objectives that its core focus on telecom needs sharpening, Stankey said.

“We’re still a little obtuse in terms of what the AT&T brand stands for, and we are about ready to do some things that are going to improve that,” he said.

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