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AT&T boss talks Discovery-Warner deal, commits to refocus on US telecoms

John Stankey, CEO, AT&T

It is “time to unleash’ WarnerMedia’s assets, AT&T’s CEO John Stankey has said.

Speaking at the JP Morgan Global Technology, Media and Communications Conference, Stankey said that AT&T’s focus on its connectivity business in the US led the telco to decide that it didn’t have the global reach to grow an international streaming business.

This was the first time that Stankey had spoken at length since AT&T agreed a blockbuster deal to combine WarnerMedia’s entertainment, sports and news assets with Discovery to create a streaming leader.

The new company – as yet unnamed – will house brands like HBO, CNN, Warner Bros., HGTV and TLC along with streaming platforms HBO Max and discovery+.

At the event, Stankey said: “What’s become clear is that the opportunity for direct relationships with customers is truly going to be a global opportunity. As a result of that, when you look at the opportunity to grow a fantastic subscriber base we kind of looked at this and said, ‘it’s time to unleash the media assets to go and seize a multi-hundred-billion-dollar opportunity.”

While not operating the business, AT&T’s shareholders will receive stock representing 71% of the new company; Discovery shareholders would own 29% of the new company. The new company’s Board of Directors will consist of 13 members, 7 initially appointed by AT&T, including the chairperson of the board; Discovery will initially appoint 6 members, including the CEO David Zaslav.

As for AT&T itself, Stankey said that “We’re still a little obtuse in terms of what the AT&T brand stands for, and we are about ready to do some things that are going to improve that,” indicating that the company’s foray in the media space is over.

Also speaking on the deal recently was John Oliver, the multi-Emmy-inning host of HBO’s hit satirical news show Last Week Tonight, who has rarely shied away from criticising both AT&T and WarnerMedia. During his show on May 23, Oliver referred to both AT&T and Discovery as “rich idiots” and that he hoped they “don’t fuck this up.”