AT&T Says TBS, TNT To Add Unscripted Content; CEO Calls HBO Max “Critical” To Success

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson
AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson Richard Drew/AP/Shutterstock

AT&T COO John Stankey said programming at Turner’s TNT and TBS will shift to more unscripted programming as general entertainment networks suffer in the ratings.

The networks, which face a spate of renewals, are still relevant and appreciated, he insisted, but, “We all know that general entertainment is not performing as well. … We will continue to invest in them but will see content shift.” Consumers, he said, tend to go for news, sports and socially relevant programming on linear television,  “so we will see more unscripted content” that he hopes will generate “water-cooler” interest.

But, “Let’s be clear, the reason we are doing HBO Max is that we know that” things are shifting. He said one bright side of its cable portfolio is that it’s “contained” – meaning the company’s exposure is limited to only two general interest networks.

Stankey and CEO Randall Stephenson said HBO Max is critical to the company’s success going forward. It took a $1.2 billion revenue hit last quarter on investment in the streamer that’s launching in May. CFO John Stephens said that’s largely because it paid for exclusive rights to premium in-house content like Friends. Seinfeld and Big Bang Theory, forgoing the hefty cash it could have taken in by licensing the shows to others.

Execs said AT&T is uniquely positioned to attract and keep HBO Max subscribers given its 170 million direct customer relationships across mobile, pay TV and broadband and thousands of AT&T retail stores nationwide.

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The broad rollout of 5G in the second half of the year will spur upgrades in phones and devices, which have been at an all-time low. The timing is good, execs said, as customers who buy or upgrade phones will be able to bundle the streaming service.

WarnerMedia is in active discussions with digital platforms – leveraging its 30 million-plus HBO subscribers in talks. “We are making progress and will have distribution deals to announce prior to launch, Stankey said.

“Our more than 10 million [HBO] subscribers on AT&T will get the service immediately at launch so we will get off to a fast start.”

Excluding the $1.2 billion in foregone licensing revenues, AT&T said WarnerMedia revenues grew 10% in the fourth quarter  Revenue growth at Turner and HBO helped offset lower Warner Bros. revenues from tough comparison to a strong 2018 fourth-quarter film slate.

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