AT&T’s John Stankey: Disney+ “Not That Deep,” But HBO Max Will Reach Whole Family

John Stankey
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John Stankey, COO of AT&T, stumped for HBO Max during a keynote appearance Tuesday morning at the UBS Global TMT Conference, continuing to emphasize differences between it and Disney+.

“Disney+ is a good product,” he said. “They’ve done a nice job. It has a particular appeal. The strongest appeal for Disney+ is to the youth of the family. Its strength as a product to satisfy the other members of the family, it’s not that deep. There’s stuff that’s interesting to adults in the offer and there’s stuff that’s probably interesting to your 20-something and 30-something-year-old members of your family. But it’s not all that deep in that regard.”

HBO Max, he continued, “is a product that appeals to the entire family and the family wireless plan. It’s something that every member of the family looks at and says, ‘That has something in it for me. … I see myself in that offering.'”

Next May, HBO Max will be the last of five major new streaming launches, joining Apple TV+, Disney+, NBCUniversal’s Peacock and Jeffrey Katzenberg’s Quibi. The influx of new offerings will jockey with streaming leaders Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video.

Moderator and UBS analyst John Hodulik about how the bundles for HBO Max with AT&T wireless and pay-TV offerings compare with Disney+ one-year-free packages offered by Verizon. “We own the product, so it’s accretive to us to get it out on the other side,” Stankey said.

The executive said the $15 monthly price for HBO Max (which is more than twice the $7 Disney is charging and at the high end of the streaming market) will not be an impediment to growth. “Disney was kind of like about half of the content of what we have at half the price,” Stankey said. “We’re twice the content of what we currently have [on traditional HBO] at the same price. I’m not really sure that that’s a hard thing to do. I was listening to feedback after the investor day [October 29] and there’s a continuum. There are some who have said, ‘too cheap,’ some who have said ‘just right’ and some who said ‘too expensive.’ That tells me we probably found a good place to start.”

By hitching HBO to the wireless capabilities of AT&T — a core premise of the $81 billion acquisition of Time Warner — the aim is to minimize churn and expand the horizons of the premium network. “The limiting aspect of HBO is that it addresses a particular demographic” and is “not quite broad enough,” he said. “Most of your young kids in your household aren’t thinking about what next HBO show they want to watch. (God help us, right?) We have a characterization where we tend to skew a little bit higher on socioeconomic and age demographics. We’d like to bring that down a bit. That’s what Max allows us to do. I think that’s why it’s so powerful.”

HBO Max will be free to AT&T premium video customers, meaning many of the current 33 million U.S. subscribers to HBO will automatically get the upgrade to HBO Max. But the company faces a significant challenge in swinging deals for cable operators to integrate HBO Max into their offerings as they have over many decades with the legacy network.

Asked by Hodulik how the negotiations with distributors have been progressing, Stankey said, “We’re in the heart of them now. They’re going like they always go.” Carriage talks, he said, “follow a particular construct and a pattern. … It gets down to money and economics and there will be a meaningful reason why they want to participate with us.”

Stankey filled in for AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, who had originally been scheduled to appear Tuesday at the UBS conference.

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