WarnerMedia’s forthcoming streaming service will rack up “tens of millions” of subscribers due to its strong library and partnerships with pay-TV providers, who will offer it free to HBO subscribers, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson predicted.
The head of WarnerMedia’s parent company offered his streaming outlook during an appearance at J.P. Morgan’s Global Technology, Media and Communications Conference in Boston. He didn’t attach any time horizon to the time to reach tens of millions, and thus far the company has kept details about timing and strategy close to the vest. Disney, pursuing a pure subscription model, has projected signing up 60 to 90 million subscribers around the world by 2024, though its price point for Disney+ is just $7 a month. HBO Now has been available for four years at $15 a month, and will be the bedrock of the forthcoming WarnerMedia service.
In previous remarks, Stephenson has explained that the streaming service, which will launch in beta in the fourth quarter of 2019 and in a full version in early 2020, will employ a “two-sided model” blending subscription and advertising. In the conference session, he elaborated on the strategy, explaining that pay-TV providers will not be competition as the service rolls out, but rather closer to business partners. (Such distribution relationships are woven into HBO’s DNA, as the premium network for decades has been sustained by partnerships with cable and satellite operators.)
“Comcast is going to be an important partner,” Stephenson said, using the No. 1 cable provider by way of example. “If you’re a Comcast subscriber and you acquire HBO, you will get this capability with your HBO subscription on Comcast. And then we want to continue to push digital distribution on top of that as well.”
Stephenson described the streaming service as the company’s “key video product,” being counted on to drive considerable revenue. In order to drive customer acquisition, the company is prepared to bring “a lot of these rights back to ourselves” to Warner Bros. shows like Big Bang Theory and Friends.
The rights dilemma is a central topic in the industry as media companies come to terms with the model they established, perhaps inadvertently, in recent years by giving rights to Netflix and other streaming services in exchange for hefty license fees. Disney has begun taking films and TV shows off Netflix and warning investors of the hundreds of millions of dollars the decision will cost. Comcast, whose NBCUniversal is preparing a major ad-supported streaming launch in 2020, and to this point WarnerMedia/AT&T, have described more of a case-by-case evaluation of licensing shows out versus holding back for their own purposes.