AT&T CFO Backs John Stankey, Downplays Apple TV+ Impact on HBO Max

The day after Apple announced pricing/content updates for its Apple TV+ subscription streaming service, and an activist investor called for the ouster of AT&T’s CEO and COO, the telecom’s CFO John Stephens came out swinging.

Speaking Sept. 11 at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Media, Communications & Entertainment Brokers Conference in Los Angeles, Stephens didn’t directly address Elliott Management’s Paul Singer (who owns $3.5 billion of AT&T stock) or his letter to the board calling for executive changes, including replacing CEO Randall Stephenson and COO John Stankey — the latter also CEO of WarnerMedia.

AT&T CFO John Stephens

Specifically, Singer questions the cost/benefits involved acquiring DirecTV and Time Warner as the pay-TV market shrinks in a rapidly evolving over-the-top video ecosystem.

Indeed, AT&T expects to lose more than 1.3 million pay-TV subscribers in the current third quarter (ending Sept. 30).

Stephens, however, outlined why Stankey is the right executive to oversee Warner Bros., HBO and Turner operations, in addition to AT&T.

Stephens said AT&T’s goal to meld entertainment content with wireless direct to the consumer requires specialized leadership befitting Stankey’s skills.

AT&T COO/WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey

“John has IT and technology experience,” Stephens said. “He had network experience. He was at our business, a wireline group and the wholesale side. He has run consumer mobility. He’s had experience in strategy. He’s had experience, with Warner Media and real knowledge of it.

“So, he’s the guy that’s got the background, that capabilities and we know and knows us and he knows all our capabilities.”

Stephens said Stankey understands the AT&T culture (he’s been with the company almost 20 years).

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“He has the ability to move things and how to get things done,” he said. “It makes all the sense … and is the right way to go about moving forward, particularly with our real significant move with HBO Max.”

Indeed, AT&T in October is planning an extensive unveiling of HBO Max — yet another direct-to-consumer subscription service centered around the HBO brand.

With Apple pricing Apple TV+ at $5 monthly, the pending service costs a third of the current HBO Now SVOD service.

Stephens isn’t concerned, characterizing the nine original shows launching on Apple TV+ as

“We only have a 40-year head start with [HBO] … a quality product that is the premium of premium,” he said. “[The] depth of just HBO alone is tremendous and it’s much different than what was talked about by some of the other [SVOD] carriers.

“When you add to that the Warner Bros. library — some of the children stuff there, what it might be — new shows that might come out and other things, it reinforces, boy, we’ve got really quality assets and really quality capabilities that others just don’t have at their disposal. So, we feel really good about that.”

Stephens pointed out that a couple of the Apple TV+ original programs (“Mythic Quest,” “Little Voice”) are produced by Warner Bros. Television.

“So, I’m sure those are pretty good shows because the folks over at Warner Bros. do great work,” he said.

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