AT&T’s John Stankey On Disney+ “Good Start,” No Brain Drain At HBO & HBO Max “IQ Test” For Subscribers

The AT&T COO was back in Tinseltown today as the streaming wars heated up & HBO Max's launch looms in 2020 AP

Three weeks after leading WarnerMedia’s HBO Max dog and pony show before investors, AT&T COO John Stankey was back on stage today in Hollywood talking streaming – past present and future.

The first stop for the exec, who still also serves as WarnerMedia CEO, was the November 12 launch of Disney+.

“They did a good job, they are off to a good start,” admitted Stankey as the House of Mouse claimed 10 million subscribers in its first somewhat glitchy day – which he said the big numbers of Game of Thrones attracted over the years for HBO has taught “We liked very much to see as many of our HBO subscribers migrate over to HBO Max,” he added of the May 2020 launch of the multi-pronged streaming service that aims to build on the success of HBO with declared hopes of 50 million subscribers by 2024.

“Let’s be cognizant that the goal here is to build a platform that has a steel customer base,” Stankey asserted reiterating that the dust will settle on who are the winners in the streaming wars in the next three years. A timeline that it should be added that AT&T want to see earnings of 10 cents a share occurring.

Of course, a big hurdle that seems to hobble AT&T and WarnerMedia over and over since HBO Max was unveiled is how it truly differs from current HBO and what’s the point if it is you are already one of the 34 million subscribers to the home of Succession, Watchmen and the GoT franchise.

Bruised by the confusion that lingered after the investors day presentation on October 29, Stankey was ready for that one, kinda

“It’s a bit of an IQ test of why you wouldn’t want twice as much content,” he said bluntly of the matching HBO price point fort HBO Max onstage at the 2019 ReCode conference at a full Neuehouse on Sunset Boulevard.

“Generally speaking if you haven’t been subscribing to HBO, it’s been because we haven’t done a good enough job putting it in front of you,” Stankey in a corporate lingo heavy stint in conceding the challenges for subscribers new and old. “MAX opens the aperture of the demo,” he also stated emphasizing “more choices” of new and old programming will get potential consumers “over the hump,” along with “quality of curation.”

Citing that HBO programming chief “Casey Bloys and his team have done a great job,” Stankey also countered that there had been a purge at the premium cabler since AT&T’s acquisition of what is now WarnerMedia was made official – particularly the exiting of the HBO boss Richard Plepler earlier this year.

“I wouldn’t characterize it as a brain drain,” a noticeably  uncomfortable Stankey told the well-heeled Neuehouse crowd on Monday. “I don’t feel like it was a brain drain whatsoever,” he stated without mentioning the long serving Plepler by name. “This wasn’t one company it was a collection of companies. When we put things together we got the best of everything.”

One of those matters that wasn’t the best of everything was the suddenly departure of Warner Bros chairman and CEO Kevin Tsujihara following allegations of misconduct this spring. “Kevin had a little bit of a mishap and stepped away – life gives you lemons you make lemonade,” Stankey proclaimed and praised new WB CEO Ann Sarnoff in almost the same breath in what was certainly an awkward moment for the corporate titian.

Having faced down an aggressive investor uprising of sorts from Elliot Management, AT&T’s streaming experiment still has to fully convince the street that this leap is in the right direction in an increasingly crowded streaming arena.

Compared with AT&T, Disney has elicited a bigger buy-in from investors as it has laid out plans and launched Disney+. The company’s investor day last April — capped by the reveal of the $7-a-month price tag — caused the stock to jump $10 a share the next trading day. Then. when the company said last week that 10 million people signed up for Disney+ through its launch on November 12, shares surged an all-time high of $150.63.

AT&T, by comparison, inched up only a fraction in the trading session following WarnerMedia’s October 29 investor day. It has continued to post steady gains over the past couple of months, though, and on Monday it closed at a two-year high at $39.61 a share. Clearly, Wall Street still has questions about the likely traction for HBO Max, which will be the last of the major new entries into the streaming derby, trailing Apple TV+, Disney+ and NBCUniversal’s Peacock.

Dade Hayes contributed to this report

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