AT&T CEO John Stankey Says Production During Covid Is “Hand To Mouth” And “Show By Show” But Hopes Worst Is Over

John Stankey AT&T
John Stankey AT&T

John Stankey, chief executive of WarnerMedia parent AT&T, compared current production challenges to a “battle” as the studio struggles to wade through shutdowns.

“We are still fighting through getting the pipeline, dropping the content at the right rate and pace that we want to,” he said on a conference call to discuss fourth quarter earnings. “We are kind of going hand to mouth on these right now… It’s just that tough and that much of a battle, literally show by show, to get this stuff done and get it into the funnel.”

Uncertainty makes it hard to pinpoint a precise launch date for new AVOD and international iterations of HBO Max although he said the AVOD service is on track to launch in the second quarter, along with a Latin America launch that is key to the platform’s international expansion.

“As we get into Q2, there will be a lot of activity and change going on here,” Stankey said. But, “it’s really important that as we put these new iterations of the product out, that we have ourselves in a good position in terms of the content.”

“We hope we’re past any of the unexpected dynamics like the California closures that went on over the last several weeks that put a couple of twists and turns in the road, and we got the worst behind us. But I… don’t’ want to overpromise.”

He did promise more detail from across the company’s businesses and financials including HBO Max strategy and rollout at an investor day later this quarter that will feature WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar.

AT&T reported 2020 fourth-quarter results that beat expectations but its overall 2021 forecast disappointed Wall Street, knocking the stock lower in early trade although it’s since recovered — up about 1%. Stankey and outgoing CFO John Stephens – on his 40th and last earnings call as he prepares to depart the company  — said they expect theater going, travel and other pandemic pummeled business to pick up in the second half, but mostly not until the fourth quarter. For the most part, the year will be one of ‘staying the course,” said Stephens.

AT&T took a write down of $780 million last quarter from the impairment of production at WarnerMedia, including $520 million for the shutdown of movie theaters and the hybrid model underway for its 2021 film slate – which is being released simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max.

That’s dwarfed however, by a massive $15.5 billion charge for its domestic video business led by DirecTV. AT&T is looking to unload the struggling satellite broadcaster and the move is seen as cleaning house ahead of a sale.

Other media execs will be weighing in with 2021 outlooks as earnings season heats up. NBCUniversal parent Comcast reports quarterly numbers tomorrow.

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