AT&T CEO John Stankey Talks HBO Max Launch, Asset Sales Chatter

John Stankey attends the WarnerMedia Upfront 2019 - Getty-H 2019
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"Just because the noise is happening, that doesn't mean there's something that definitive and will come to pass," Stankey told an investors conference.

AT&T CEO John Stankey says the telecom and media conglomerate is using HBO Max and its fast-growing streaming strategy to weather the novel coronavirus pandemic.

"Had we not done that and been in this situation, I feel we'd be real flat-footed," Stankey told the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference during a virtual appearance on Tuesday as he discussed the recent HBO Max launch.

"We're really pleased with our progress around that. We've said from the start that's going to be a multi year effort," Stankey told investors. As it converts HBO subscribers to HBO Max, Stankey said key priorities for AT&T include bundling its streaming product and content offerings with telecom offerings, including wireless, broadband and TV packages, and doing so via an adaptable software-based distribution platform.

"We have a unique ability to produce content that's special and different and we'd like to continue doing that and telling those great stories and then using a combination of connectivity and those stories to wrap it in software and build the applications for customers that engage with our networks and with our content," Stankey explained.

After HBO Max launched, WarnerMedia went through a comprehensive reorganization that included the departure of WarnerMedia Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt and the studio's content divisions combined into one unit overseen by Warner Bros. chief Ann Sarnoff.

As he measures the impact of the pandemic on WarnerMedia, Stankey said HBO Max had seen a delay in some content delivered amid the industry shutdown.

"From where we started this, we've done incredibly well... Would I like it to be faster? Sure. Are we impacted on some of our subscription growth, because we're lacking a certain amount of new content coming out of COVID? Yes. Will those things ultimately fix themselves and correct themselves and we'll get back on a different trajectory that's even stronger than the one we're on now? We will," Stankey insisted.

Asked about Wall Street deal chatter around possible assets sales for AT&T, including for rumored targets DirecTV and Xander, Stankey kept his cards close to the vest.  "I'm not going to comment on any unique transaction, but what's important to this management is ensuring any assets we have are supporting the key strategic areas," Stankey argued.

He added non-core assets that didn't offer a high investment return or took management eyes off the prize would be considered for possible divestitures. "Just because the noise is happening, that doesn't mean there's something that definitive and will come to pass," he added.