Wall Street awoke today to the fact that Hurricane Harvey and possibly Hurricane Irma will hit cable operators and other TV distributors’ Q3 numbers hard. Comcast EVP Matt Strauss warned the Bank of America Merrill Lynch 2017 Media, Communications & Entertainment Conference that the company could lose as many as 150,000 video subscribers in Q3. And AT&T Senior EVP John Stankey told the same gathering to expect a “multi-year” effort to rebuild.
“You’ve got a huge metropolitan area that’s just gone underwater and there’ve been a lot of homes lost,” he says. Houston is one of the markets where AT&T offers U-verse wired TV and broadband service. “I’m sure there’ll be some pressure within the quarter.”
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And beyond. “There’s a lot of infrastructure that was exposed to high winds and water and that typically means damage,” he says. “Harvey’s damage is widespread and it takes a little bit of time to assess it.”
Comcast shares are down 6.2% in afternoon trading, with Altice USA -3.2%, Dish Network -3.5%, and AT&T -2.7%.
The hurricanes come at a time when Stankey says that pay TV providers are at an “inflection point.” As the cost of the traditional bundle rises, and consumers discover less expensive infotainment options, “pay TV as we know it today is at peak and it’s going to continue to decline. The question is: what is the rate and pace?”
As a result, “we’re in a real difficult spot right now” although many customers are “still searching for what the solution is,” he says.
He expects people to gravitate to a package with more on-demand capabilities and a better user interface, at a lower price. AT&T hopes to capture many of those consumers with its DirecTV Now streaming service.
Stankey remains optimistic that AT&T’s $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner will close by the end of this year. He also reassured Time Warner folks not to worry about having to toe the telco’s company line.
“The mothership should get to be a relatively small and efficient holding company over time.” he says.
Even without a deal, Time Warner was poised to adapt to changes in the market. “Did they have the right collaboration around data? Are they using intellectual property that they have in the library most effectively across the different brand positions they have to build direct relationships with consumers? I don’t think you’ll walk into the Time Warner company and find that they were not front-and-center topics.”
Stankey adds that his goal, in overseeing the Time Warner assets, is “to ensure we preserve the integrity of some very, very good brands and a very, very good creative process. Everything we do is about protecting that….That’s sacrosanct and paramount. They should have independence, flexibility, they should be able to react to markets effectively and quickly.”
He said that after the deal closes “you should expect some variants” of consumer offerings. There’s also be “experimentation and piloting” of Time Warner content.
But the AT&T exec challenged Deadline’s report that the company is mulling the possibility of selling some assets, including CNN, after the deal closes.
“I’m not interested in selling CNN because I think CNN does great work in the business today,” he says. “It can be matched up really well to ad-supported constructs and that can be repackaged in a lot of different ways to match today’s consumption patterns, for example in mobile.”
All told, AT&T wants Time Warner “to build a different data model, to get that data and that flywheel that allows you to have a scaled consumer platform.” In the first year, people should expect “repeated iterations of that.”
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