July 24, 2018
Size matters to WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey. The new boss at the former Time Warner (Turner, HBO and Warner Bros.) wants to bring scale to WarnerMedia’s slate of pending and existing direct-to-consumer platforms.
And that begins with HBO. As has been previously reported, Stankey seeks to up the premium channel’s original content slate through increased spending and year-round releases.
“My goal is to give the HBO team the resources to greenlight additional projects already in the development funnel,” Stankey said on the July 24 fiscal call. “That would keep consumers from jumping in-and-out of [HBO Now]. If we can smooth [program] scheduling, then we drive down churn, improve retention and subscriber growth.”
Second-quarter (ended June 30) operating income at HBO remained essentially flat at $530 million. Growth in revenue was offset by increased expenses, including programming and marketing costs. Programming expenses increased 15% due to higher original and acquired programming costs. The increase in marketing costs was related to original programming. Operating income included $39 million of costs related to the AT&T merger.
AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said traditional and new-age media companies are all pursuing the same goal of selling directly to consumers.
“The modern media company must develop extensive direct-to-consumer relationships,” he said. “And we think pure wholesale business models for media companies will be really tough to sustain over time. The recent valuations of media companies are reinforcing this point.”
Both Stephenson and Stankey contend bundling WarnerMedia brands is the best way to bring larger audiences to individual OTT platforms. AT&T has about 170 million customers across its various distribution channels, including mobile, satellite, broadband and telecom.
“If you put CNN.com, Otter Media (which AT&T co-owns with The Chernin Group) and Bleacher Report together, there are almost 200 million unique monthly users to each of those sites,” Stephenson said. “This is a scaled direct-to-consumer business.”
The CEO believes that personalizing content and advertising through OTT video will create “unique” consumer experiences.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Stephenson said.
Stankey said that since the close of the $85 billion Time Warner acquisition, corporate has been busy with the “blocking and tackling” that comes with a merger, including integrating corporate and staff functions, and aligning corporate management as part of $2.5 billion in group synergies.
The executive wants to expand audiences for OTT ventures, including HBO Now and recently launched DC Universe platform.
“They’re all good within their own right, [but] they generate what I would consider to be small-scale audiences,” Stankey said. “A company our size, we want to be generating audiences in the tens of millions. Not in the single-digit millions.”
The executive believes WarnerMedia’s strong brands are more powerful when bundled together than as stand-alone properties.
“So, over time we are going to think about how the discreet brands we have [can be unified] into a more consistent, more-focused experience,” he said. “That starts to bring some scale.”