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.

Netflix Signs ‘Wonder Woman’ Director Patty Jenkins to Multiyear Series Production Deal

Netflix has signed award-winning writer, director, and producer Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman, Monster, I Am the Night) to a multiyear overall deal to produce exclusive new series for the SVOD pioneer.

Financial details of the deal were not disclosed.

Jenkins is best known for directing Warner Bros. Pictures’ and DC’s 2017 blockbuster Wonder Woman and Oscar-winning feature Monster.

Patty Jenkins

Jenkins became the first woman in history to helm a film with a budget over $100 million with Wonder Woman.

The film opened to rave reviews and became one of Rotten Tomatoes’ highest-rated superhero films of all time. Additionally, it smashed box office records, becoming the highest-grossing film of the summer and third-highest-grossing film of the year domestically, and the highest-grossing live-action film directed solo by a woman – domestic and worldwide.

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Jenkins is also responsible for casting, building and helming the pilot and finale episodes of AMC’s hit show “The Killing,” garnering her the 2012 DGA Award for Best Director of the Year along with a Primetime Emmy nomination.

Up next for Jenkins is the highly anticipated sequel Wonder Woman 1984, which she is directing, producing and co-writing. The film is currently in post-production and slated for a June 2020 release.

“[Jenkins’] trailblazing work has pushed boundaries and she confidently tells stories that leave an unforgettable mark,” Channing Dungey, VP of  original series at Netflix, said in a statement. “We look forward to fostering her many ideas and helping them come to life.”

DEG Announces Board for 2019-20

DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group on Aug. 9 announced its incoming board of directors at the start of its 23rd year as one of the home entertainment industry’s leading trade associations.

DEG’s voting member companies elected the new board to serve for the 2019-20 fiscal year (Aug. 1 – July 31). New board members include Pedro Gutierrez of Microsoft Corp., Cheryl Goodman of Sony Electronics and Erol Kalafat of Amazon Studios.

Amazon Studios is a new member company represented on the
DEG board for the first time.

The DEG also has added two additional companies to its membership: Row8, a transactional digital movie service that allows viewers to stop a movie they don’t like and choose a new one at no additional charge, and Snap Inc., parent company of social networking app Snapchat.

The Officers of the DEG board were elected to a two-year term in 2018 and will continue to serve through July 2020. Officers include Chair Matt Strauss of Comcast Cable; Vice Chair Sofia Chang of WarnerMedia Distribution (HBO); CFO Bob Buchi of Paramount Home Entertainment; Secretary Jim Wuthrich of Warner Bros. Worldwide Home Entertainment & Games, and Chair Emeritus Mike Dunn, formerly of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

“At a time when our industry is rapidly changing, the board of directors strives to produce deliverables that meet the needs of the industry at this dynamic time, such as DEG’s D2C Alliance, formed at the start of the year,” said Amy Jo Smith, president and CEO of the DEG.

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Analyst: Netflix to Weather Content Migration — For Now

With Netflix set to release second-quarter (ended June 30) financial results on July 17, Michael Pachter, analyst with Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles and longtime Netflix bear, contends the subscription streaming video pioneer will add 5.3 million subscribers, including 300,000 in the United States.

The tally surprisingly exceeds Wall Street consensus and Netflix’s projection of 5 million new subs, including 4.7 million international subs.

Pachter argues that despite media attention to the departures of popular TV reruns “Friends” and “The Office” from Netflix in two years, the service has more than enough content in the pipeline and willingness to spend big on new programming to weather the storm.

“Friends” and “The Office” account for an estimated 5% of all viewing on Netflix, leaving other content that accounts for 95% of viewing on Netflix in place.

Indeed, Netflix launched 21 new shows in Q2, excluding 13 returning series. That compared to six news series and 17 returning series in the previous-year period.

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At the same time, content from NBC Universal, Fox, Disney and Warner Bros. currently accounts for upwards of 65% of Netflix viewing hours, according to Wedbush.

Pachter expects the migration of third-party content away from Netflix to competing platforms to be relatively slow and is unclear whether the service can successfully replace it with quantity and quality to keep its subscribers loyal.

“We think it is likely that Netflix will pay whatever it takes to attract high quality content and believe its competitors will be slow to gain scale,” Pachter wrote in a note. “Thus, we expect the status quo to be largely maintained until the end of 2021. For now, Netflix provides tremendous value for its subscribers.”

‘The Curse of La Llorona’ to Materialize on Digital July 16, Disc Aug. 6

The horror film The Curse of La Llorona will come out on digital (including Movies Anywhere) July 16 and Blu-ray combo pack and DVD Aug. 6 from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.

From New Line Cinema and producer James Wan, The Curse of La Llorona brings the iconic Latin American legend to life. The film stars Linda Cardellini (Green Book, TV’s “Bloodline”), Raymond Cruz (TV’s “Breaking Bad,” Training Day) and Patricia Velasquez (TV’s “Arrested Development,” “The Mummy” films). Supporting cast includes Marisol Ramirez (TV’s “NCIS: Los Angeles”), Sean Patrick Thomas (the “Barbershop” films, Halloween: Resurrection), Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen (Selfless) and newcomer Roman Christou.

Set in 1973 Los Angeles, the film tells the story of Anna Tate-Garcia (Cardellini), a social worker and widowed single mom struggling to balance the two roles while still coping with the loss of her husband. Anna has navigated a multitude of phantoms and superstitions in her job, usually finding personal demons lurking beneath. When she’s called to the home of Patricia Alvarez (Velasquez) and finds her two young sons locked in a closet, she interprets their terrified mother’s desperate efforts to keep them locked away as a dangerous sign of abuse. Because she is unaware of the very real danger they face, Anna has no idea what she’s about to unleash when she takes the kids into protective custody.

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The Blu-ray combo pack includes a DVD and a digital copy.

Special features on disc include “The Myth of La Llorona,” “Behind the Curse,” “The Making of a Movie Monster,” deleted scenes and storyboards.

VidAngel Hit With $62.4 Million Damages Ruling for Copyright Infringement

A California District Court jury June 17 ruled bankrupt VidAngel must pay Disney, Warner Bros., Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox, among others, $62.4 million in damages for illegally altering/filtering plaintiff’s DVD/Blu-ray Disc movies for its proprietary streaming video service.

VidAngel, based in Provo, Utah, had taken the discs and filtered out content it deemed objectionable, including nudity, profanity and violence, and then made the content available for streaming to subscribers.

“We disagree with today’s ruling and have not lessened our resolve to save filtering for families one iota,” Neal Harmon, CEO of VidAngel, said in a statement. “VidAngel plans to appeal the District Court ruling and explore options in the bankruptcy court. Our court system has checks and balances, and we are pursuing options on that front as well.”

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Studios in 2016 filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Vid Angel, alleging the service circumvented anti-pirating safeguards embedded on DVD and Blu-ray Disc movies.

VidAngel responded with an antitrust counter-suit, which was denied. A federal judge ordered a preliminary injunction against the service, ordering it to remove the studio movies. An appeal by VidAngel to the Ninth Circuit of Appeals failed as well.

To the studios, the issue wasn’t censorship as much as it was infringement.

“The jury today found that VidAngel acted willfully and imposed a damages award that sends a clear message to others who would attempt to profit from unlawful infringing conduct at the expense of the creative community,” studios said in a statement.

WarnerMedia Hires First Diversity/Inclusion Officer

WarnerMedia June 12 announced the hiring of Christy Haubegger as the media company’s first chief enterprise inclusion officer.

Haubegger, who spent 14 years at Creative Artists Agency, reports directly to CEO John Stankey and works with senior management to drive business growth through strategic investment in diverse audiences and to ensure the organization’s workforce is representative of the markets it serves.

Christy Haubegger

“As we transform our businesses and our culture, we see a unique opportunity to generate outsize growth by delivering world-class content that engages underserved audiences,” Stankey said in a statement. “To realize that opportunity we must make strategic investments, build a more representative workforce, and create a truly inclusive culture.”

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Created with AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner, which includes Warner Bros., HBO and Turner, WarnerMedia says it want to recognize diversity and inclusion as business imperatives.

The company claims to use its best efforts to ensure diverse actors and crew members are considered for film, television and other projects, and to work with directors and producers who also seek to promote greater diversity and inclusion in the media and entertainment industry.

At CAA, Haubegger spearheaded representation of women and people of color, and helped transformed the diversity of the workforce.

The talent agency has long focused on innovation through diversity and implemented strategies to create sustainable change within the agency and beyond.

Under Haubegger’s leadership, CAA launched “CAA Amplify,” an invitation-only annual event convening high-level multicultural artists and leaders, as well as the industry’s first searchable database of television writers of color.

During her tenure, the agency grew its diverse roster more than 1400% and according to USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, the agency now represents the largest share of female directors and African- American directors in the motion picture business.

“Christy Haubegger is one of a kind. She is a talented and visionary leader who made a transformational impact on the agency throughout her tenure,” said CAA president Richard Lovett. “She influenced our business and culture, and established CAA as a leader in the promotion of inclusion, creating initiatives that support and advance underrepresented voices. We remain steadfast in our commitment to moving our industry forward and are thrilled to continue working collaboratively with Christy in her new role.”

Studios, Distributors, EMA Team Up on Massive Digital Movie Rental Promotion

A consortium of studios and key digital retailers, cable companies and satellite providers is sponsoring a digital rental movie sale May 31 through June 3 in which consumers can stream up to 250 different movies at prices as low as $2.99 for recent releases and 99 cents for older, catalog titles.

The “Ultimate Movie Weekend” initiative, led by the Entertainment Merchants Association (EMA), is believed to be the first time such a coordinated promotion has been undertaken in the United States.

The goal, according to EMA SVP Sean Bersell, is to “introduce consumers who haven’t rented digitally previously to the value and convenience of digital rental, and to entice consumers who haven’t rented digital recently to re-engage.”

The campaign will offer recent releases and catalog movies from Lionsgate, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, Universal Pictures, and Warner Bros. Participating digital retailers and cable and satellite companies include Altice USA’s Optimum and Suddenlink TV, Amazon Prime Video, the Apple TV app and iTunes, Atlantic Broadband, Comcast’s Xfinity TV, Cox, DIRECTV, DISH, FandangoNOW, Frontier Communications, Google Play, Microsoft Movies & TV, PlayStation Store, Redbox On Demand, U-Verse, and Vudu.

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The tagline for the Ultimate Movie Weekend is “Rent the Biggest Movies for Less.” Participating retailers will offer between 50 and 250 movies at discounted prices as low as $2.99 for recent releases and $0.99 for catalog movies. The Ultimate Movie Weekend sale includes some of the latest releases that are not yet available on subscription video services. Among the movies in the promotion are A Star Is Born (2018), Bumblebee, Fifty Shades of Grey, First Man, Forrest Gump, The Hunger Games, Robin Hood (2018), Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Step Brothers, and Wonder Woman.

The promotional campaign will be supported by a significant media buy, social media marketing, direct-to-consumer outreach, and a dedicated website, www.ultimatemovieweekend.com. The Ultimate Movie Weekend sale is patterned after similar successful efforts last year in Australia, France and the U.K.

“While the popularity of digital movie rentals continues to grow, there is the opportunity to introduce even more consumers to the value and convenience of digital rental, so the industry has come together to offer a compelling promotion that we hope will attract new customers and remind infrequent digital renters of this option,” said EMA president and CEO Mark Fisher. “Plus, with the start of the summer, which is traditionally a heavy movie-viewing season, it’s a good time to remind consumers of the pleasure of getting together with family and friends for a movie night.”

According to industry statistics, in the first quarter of 2019, digital rental generated $564 million in consumer spending, which accounted for approximately 10% of all home entertainment consumer spending in the quarter.

“This is the first effort of its kind in the U.S., and the breadth of participants demonstrates that the home entertainment industry is making it a priority to communicate the value proposition of digital rentals to consumers,” said Richard Smith, SVP, domestic digital sales, for Paramount Pictures and chair of EMA’s Ultimate Movie Weekend planning committee. “We see significant potential to grow this sector of the industry, and in doing so grow the overall home entertainment market.”

“Our studio partners have assembled a fantastic slate of movies, many unavailable on subscription services, which FandangoNow will offer at compelling prices,” added Cameron Douglas, VP of home entertainment at Fandango and chair of the EMA. “Convenience and value have always been the hallmark of home entertainment, and these great movies at discounted prices draws attention to the ease and affordability of renting digitally.”

WarnerMedia Entertainment to Boycott Georgia Should Anti-Abortion Ban Become Law

WarnerMedia Entertainment May 30 joined Disney and Netflix in pledging to withdraw movie and TV show productions from Georgia should the state’s new anti-abortion law go into effect Jan. 1, 2020.

Gov. Brian Kemp May 8 signed legislation outlawing women from terminating their pregnancy six weeks after becoming pregnant. Georgia currently bans abortions after 20 weeks.

“We operate and produce work in many states and within many countries at any given time and while that doesn’t mean we agree with every position taken by a state or a country and their leaders, we do respect due process,” WarnerMedia said in a media statement. “We will watch the situation closely and if the new law holds, we will reconsider Georgia as the home of any new productions. As is always the case, we will work closely with our production partners and talent to determine where and how to shoot any given project.”

In addition to CNN and Turner in Atlanta, WarnerMedia has significant content production in Georgia, which has been home to a hotbed of film and TV production for years due to generous tax incentives.

AT&T Bringing 5G to Warner Bros. Studio Lot

Next-generation 5G mobile wireless connectivity may be more hype than reality at the moment, but that isn’t stopping AT&T from showcasing the technology next month at Warner Bros. in Los Angeles.

AT&T, which owns Warner Bros.’ operating unit WarnerMedia Entertainment, will bring a collection of 5G “experiences and demonstrations,” as well as an industry “thought leaders” to the studio for AT&T Shape, taking place June 22-23.

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AT&T will deploy 5G at the confab, which will ultimately become a permanent fixture and cover the entire Warner Bros. studio facility. Once operational, the mobile 5G connectivity will have the ability to maximize technical efficiencies and give content creators more flexibility to enhance the production experience.

“Partnering with AT&T to implement permanent 5G on the lot will allow Warner Bros. and our production partners the opportunity to explore all 5G has to offer,” Jon Gilbert, president, worldwide studio facilities, Warner Bros., said in a statement.

The interactive exhibits at Shape are designed to let attendees experience the responsiveness and speed of 5G, including the future of road-based travel in an IoT-enabled Airstream Classic travel trailer with “smart control technology” that AT&T is connecting over 5G.

Attendees will also see video gaming on 5G mobile devices, experience immersive entertainment with volumetric video and virtual reality content from Warner Bros.

“Developers, creators and media makers will see 5G technology and entertainment in new ways,” said David Christopher, president of AT&T mobility and entertainment. “By bringing 5G to Warner Bros., and other WarnerMedia properties in the future, we hope to inspire the next generation of creators to unlock the [network’s] full potential.”