AT&T CEO defends Warner Bros streaming move with HBO Max at 12.6 million subs

John Stankey

WarnerMedia’s big-budget SVOD HBO Max is at 12.6 million activated subscribers, AT&T CEO John Stankey has said.

Speaking at the UBS Global TMT Virtual Conference, Stankey confirmed that it has added four million users to the streamer since AT&T reported its Q3 figures at the end of October. The company will reveal its year-end figures in January.

Overall, the CEO said that the company is positive about reaching its target of 50 million US subs and 75-90 million global subs by 2025, stating that “we’re actually ahead of plan,” despite it performing much slower than other recently launched streamers like Disney+ and Peacock, which just hit 26 million subscribers.

Engagement on the streamer has also increased, with Stankey noting that total hours has risen by 36% in the past 30 days – though the CEO did not mention the total number of hours. Stankey cited viewership of HBO’s star-studded mystery drama The Undoing along with HBO Max original The Flight Attendant as key drivers.

HBO overall has more than 40 million US subs, but the company has had a problem with ‘activating’ many of these users on HBO Max. The vast majority of people who subscribe to the linear channel also have access to the streamer via their pay TV package, and this is something the company will hope it can improve in 2021 – particularly given last week’s shock announcement that it will launch all of next year’s Warner Bros. movies simultaneously in cinemas and on streaming.

Wonder Woman 1984

Of that decision, Stankey said it was a “win-win-win” with viewers getting more to watch on HBO Max, cinemas getting films to show, and the operator itself boosting both aspects of the business. He said that the decision was made as the likelihood of a longer return to theatres and that “snowplowing all theatrical content into late-2021 and early-2022 probably isn’t going to help anybody.”

The decision has not gone down well with Hollywood however. Tenet director Christopher Nolan indicated that many had been blindsided by the news, while talent agents for a number of top stars like Keanu Reeves and Margot Robbie are reportedly up in arms over improved deals for Gal Godot and Patty Jenkins after Wonder Woman 1984 was shifted to streaming.

Stankey pushed back against the negative reaction, and said that the move reflects “the reality of where markets are going right now.” He said that “if we just simply sit here and say, ‘This is about whether or not people go to movie theaters,’ I think we’re missing the broader point.”

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