AT&T boss: WarnerMedia will take back ‘Friends’ for its SVOD

AT&T boss Randall Stephenson has said that the business will pull back titles such as Friends and The Big Bang Theory for its own platforms in the near future. 

Speaking at the J.P. Morgan Global Technology, Media and Communications Conference in Boston on Tuesday (14 May), the exec highlighted that WarnerMedia’s “key video product” will be integral in driving revenue and, as such, the business will take back “a lot of these rights”.

AT&T courted controversy in December when it agreed to extend Netflix’s license of the sitcom Friends for a reported $100m across 2019, despite stating earlier that it would look to hold back WarnerMedia content for its own platform.

At the time, however, Stephenson was upfront about the fact that the show will not remain exclusively on Netflix, and that WarnerMedia is able to take back streaming rights in 2020.

“The Warner Bros. library is an amazing library. It’s incredible,” he said. “It’s a TV production machine and will produce over 70 shows this year alone.

“Think about everything from Friends and Seinfeld and The Big Bang Theory. All of this TV production is owned by Warner Bros. and we will be bringing a lot of these media rights, licensing rights, back to ourselves to put on our own SVOD video product.”

Stephenson added: “I don’t think people yet have an appreciation for what this product will bring to bear. It’s a luxury brand in terms of content.”

He is expecting WarnerMedia’s new streaming service – set to launch in beta mode in Q4, with a full version debuting in 2020 – to draw tens of millions of subscribers. In comparison, Disney has said it is aiming to garner between 60m and 90m global subscribers for its forthcoming Disney+ service by 2024.

Pay-TV tie-ins

While WarnerMedia’s library of content will be key, the platform also plans to leverage strong partnerships with pay-TV providers, who will likely get access to the streaming service as part of other subscriptions, such as HBO.

The exec said previously that the streaming service will be both subscription and advertising-focused, meaning SVOD and AVOD tiers will be in place. In Boston, he further explained this strategy, noting that the business will lean into its relationships with pay-TV providers, as HBO has done for years.

Stephenson singled out Comcast, the top US cable provider and parent company of NBCUniversal, as an “important partner” going forward.

“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,” he said.