Speaking to analysts during its third-quarter earnings call on Thursday, John Stankey, chief executive officer of AT&T, said:
While this will help boost its premium streaming service, HBO Max, Stankey was uncertain how much of its films will go into movie theaters. “It's going to help HBO Max. Theatrical work is underway as well. The question is, what does exhibition look like?”
Movie theater re-openings have been sporadic during the COVID-19 pandemic, and with another increase in cases in many states and the expectations of re-closings of those venues.
In this light, Stankey says: “We're still committed to want to try to put some of the content that we think is the most important into a theatrical channel if that makes sense.”
He estimated this will continue for some time: “We're expecting this to be incredibly choppy moving into next year... We’re not optimistic.”
Turning to WarnerMedia’s TV-ad supported networks, said Stankey, while big sports TV leagues did well with restarting games and events in recent months -- of which the NBA and Major League Baseball games appear on TNT -- he doesn’t anticipate expanding AT&T’s commitment to more sports.
“Sports content is
important to our linear business, our cable networks business, to make sure we have enough of it that sustains that business and keeps it at attractive must-have offering.” But he added:
“I don't see going deeper in sports is the direction for WarnerMedia.... our goal is not to become known as the sports company.”
He believes the traditional pay TV bundle will continue to slim down with amount of TV networks on a particular service carries. Sports TV-based content networks will remain key.
“There's a certain number of sports consuming households that are going to be the stickier households in the pay TV bundle that when we kind of get down to that, 55 million, 60 million household range.”
Currently around 80 million to 82 million homes have a traditional or virtual pay TV service, according to industry estimates -- a number that has been slipping 6% to 7% per year recently.