AT&T CFO Signals No Sale of Ad Tech Unit Xandr

John Stephens - Getty - H 2020
Presley Ann/Getty Images

John Stephens during a virtual Bank of America investor conference also touted the theatrical experience of such tentpole releases as 'Tenet.'.

AT&T CFO John Stephens signaled during an appearance at an investor conference on Wednesday that the telecom giant wouldn't sell advertising technology unit Xandr despite recent reports and touted the theatrical experience tentpole films like Warner Bros.' Tenet provide.

Speaking during a virtual Bank of America investor conference in a session that was webcast, he also discussed how the coronavirus pandemic has been affecting the business.

"Advertising continues being an important part of our business, ... and that is not going to change," including making ads more efficient with data for clients and AT&T itself, he said. Citing a "long-term commitment" to the space, Stephens said "we’ll stay with it."

He said he had no comment on what he called "speculative" reports on other possible transactions.

Earlier in the year, he had mentioned that the company was continuously reviewing its asset portfolio as it looks to reduce its debt load, which stood at $152 billion as of midyear.

The company has also been understood to be looking at selling slightly more than 50 percent of DirecTV. Plus, anime outfit Crunchyroll is believed to be on the auction block as well, with Sony as a potential buyer.

AT&T has been believed to have abandoned a previously eyed potential sale of WarnerMedia's video gaming unit Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, which owns and develops the Mortal Kombat fighting franchise, as well as games based on intellectual property owned by the Hollywood giant.

Stephens on Wednesday also said many of AT&T's businesses have been resilient amid the coronavirus pandemic, but acknowledged that "media has been challenged," including WarnerMedia unit's Turner division, which has seen such issues as weaker advertising revenue, driven by lower spending from the likes of airlines, and the NBA delays whose financial effects will show up in the third- and the fourth-quarter results.

At WarnerMedia overall, he lauded recent management changes and a focus that has brought on "streamlining operations to keep more focused on content development" and the like.

Asked about AT&T's pay TV subscriber strategy, Stephens said "our focus is on retaining our quality subs that we have today" and attracting additional ones instead of "chasing every customer."

The AT&T CFO on Wednesday also reiterated that the firm's Warner Bros. studio would continue to work with cinema operators, especially on tentpole releases, despite a fast-changing environment and investor questions about whether streaming service HBO could end up debuting big Warner movies. "Tenet speaks to that," he said. "We will continue to partner" with exhibitors," even though "we understand that the distribution model is going to evolve," such as in the case of the premium VOD release of the animated Scoob!

"We will continue to look at everything," Stephens concluded, but highlighted: "For a tentpole movie like Tenet, which I saw at the theater, [the theatrical experience] really is impressive." He added: "I couldn’t have imagined being able to see that and enjoy it in the same way here in my home."