During an analyst call following its second-quarter financials report on Wednesday, AT&T chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson discussed plans to bring live sports content to HBO Max, WarnerMedia’s subscription-based streaming service set to launch in spring 2020.
Stephenson also offered his widely differing assessments of the prospects for ending CBS and Nexstar blackouts affecting AT&T platforms.
At some point — though not at launch — HBO Max will offer live sports now featured on WarnerMedia’s Turner and TNT platforms, including NBA and MLB games, Stephenson said.
"Those unique live sports — NBA, Major League Baseball, NCAA basketball — will be important elements for HBO Max,” he said.
He added that HBO Max has significant opportunities to leverage WarnerMedia’s “unique content deals,” including exclusive content from Turner and The Bleacher Report, such as European soccer coverage.
HBO Max will also feature exclusive news content, he said.
Stephenson attributed “very strong” HBO subscriber growth during the second quarter (international growth made up for unspecified numbers of domestic subscriber losses) to HBO’s “stepped-up investment in content.” That investment, he said, “will be critical” to the HBO Max launch.
He also noted that AT&T TV, a live TV service over broadband, will beta launch in a few markets later this summer. “We have some really high expectations for this product, and we’re going to learn from the pilot, and then we’ll expand to more cities as we go to the year,” he added.
“IP broadband revenue growth remains strong, we continue to see a solid growth in our AT&T Fiber product,” Stephenson reported, per Seeking Alpha. “That product now reaches about 14 million customer locations, or 22 million when you include businesses. So, all in all [we’re seeing] solid, steady progress against the commitments we made coming into the year. And [we’re] even more confident that we’re going to meet or exceed each of those commitments for the full year.”
On the blackouts front, Stephenson expressed optimism that a deal can soon be worked out with CBS to end station blackouts on AT&T’s DirecTV, DirecTV Now and U-verse platforms, affecting some 6.5 million subscribers in at least 14 major markets since July 20.
He said that the gap between the terms being proposed by CBS and AT&T to strike a new carriage deal is actually “not that wide,” and reported that AT&T made another, “fair” offer five days ago.
While CBS has yet to respond (“It’s been crickets,” Stephenson said), he said he is “guessing” that CBS may currently be “distracted with other negotiations.” That may have been a reference to secretive Viacom merger talks reportedly underway.
But Stephenson acknowledged that when it comes to the blackout of 120 Nexstar-owned stations affecting AT&T paid subscribers across 97 local markets since July 4, the sides are still far apart, adding that AT&T intends to continue to be “resolute” in its negotiations approach. Nexstar came to the table “asking for a rather significant increase on assets they don’t own,” he asserted.
Meanwhile, through the American Television Alliance, MVPDs yesterday issued their latest blast blaming broadcasters for blackouts and urging consumers to push Congress for regulatory change.