After AT&T-Time Warner Merger, Will PVOD Talk Rear Its Head Again?


When AT&T first announced its intentions to acquire Time Warner back in October 2016, talk about premium-video-on-demand was all the rage.

The format, which each studio had different pitches on, essentially called for streaming movies in the home roughly 17 days after their theatrical release at a price between $20-$30 per title.

Most of the majors, except for Disney, were hot and heavy about collapsing the window as they saw it as a potential means to supplant lost home entertainment revenue, which has plunged during the millennium. Between 2016 and 2017 alone, physical DVD sales dropped 14% from $5.5 billion to $4.7 billion according to the Digital Entertainment Group. To exhibition, PVOD is a means for studios to burn the house down in order to keep warm, potentially decimating an $11 billion domestic box office business. The prime sticking point in PVOD ever becoming a reality: What was exhibition’s cut of such revenue? Some studios believed theater owners shouldn’t get a nickel for a video stream they didn’t control.

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The thinking close to two years ago was that an AT&T and Time Warner merger could only propel Warner Bros.’ plans for PVOD. Being married to a wireless giant would only make it easier for the Burbank, CA lot to keep up with the digital revolution, especially with a partner that possessed a national reach of 25.2M U-Verse & DirecTV subscribers, 51M-plus mobile subs and 90M-plus business subs.

However industryites tell Deadline that the $85 billion merger isn’t apt to reignite another push by Warner Bros. for PVOD — that is in the immediate future.

“PVOD is dead” says MKM Partners analyst Eric Handler further bolstered by the fact that the leading exhibitor AMC said back in January that PVOD talks with the majors turned dormant.

“On a list of AT&T and Time Warner’s top ten priorities, PVOD is just not on there,” said one rival studio executive, while a Time Warner insider says “We just don’t know what they (AT&T) want yet”. Yesterday, AT&T boss Randall Stephenson promised TW staff that they’ll “continue to have creative freedom and resources”.


According to the Wall Street Journal, AT&T’s most immediate To-Do is gaining ground in a cord-cutting universe that Netflix dominates commanding 125M subscribers worldwide, half of that in the U.S. alone.  WSJ also reported that AT&T is planning to release a $15-a-month bundle of channels (versus the $40-a-month price often associated with a skinny bundle), including Turner’s CNN, TNT and TBS, sans sports networks. The service would come with an app preloaded on AT&T Wireless customers’ phone. Of the near $3K-$6K annually that the average AT&T consumer spends on bundled mobile, TV and internet, the new AT&T will now see a cut from HBO, and Turner revenues.

“AT&T’s business is going through trouble and they probably want to make sure that each segment is on sound footing. Warner Bros. has had a mixed run of late (at the box office). We’re already seen changes on the DC side of the business. AT&T will examine the businesses closely in order to maximize profit,” Handler tells Deadline about the merger’s pending priorities.


But exhibition take heed: The one merger that many say would reignite the entire push for PVOD all over again would be a Comcast-21st Century Fox one. Theater owners know that Disney isn’t interested in killing theatrical’s golden goose, and is a big respecter of windows. That means a lot coming from a studio that owns 34% of the 2018 box office to date with close to $1.8 billion. However, 21st Century Fox CEO James Murdoch and Universal filmed entertainment group Chairman Jeff Shell are big proponents of PVOD. If their studios are combined, they would reap 25%-27% share of the annual domestic box office; enough weight to push back on theater owners to lead a charge for PVOD (assuming no attrition in regards to product output). Together Uni-Fox through June 10 of this year have amassed $1.3B at the domestic B.O. for a 25% share. Should a Uni-Fox combo emerge, then it’s plausible that AT&T/Time Warner could join in the pursuit of a PVOD window. It’s just that right now, many believe that Warner Bros. doesn’t want to go at it alone.

“This is really going to hurt exhibition,” says one former studio executive about the potential doomsday fallout of Hollywood’s latest merger and acquisition craze, “I’d be shorting against all the exhibition companies in the stock market. I can’t see a win.”

While big city theaters years from now might weather the blow given the amount of walk-up business, industry sources say that the independent chains could be collateral damage, especially as consolidated studios argue for higher rentals.

“I find it interesting today that no one in exhibition has opened their mouths,” says the same studio vet about studios’ M&As, “They always have an opinion.”

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