AT&T CEO defends plan to release new movies on HBO Max

AT&T’s chief executive on Tuesday defended the company’s recent move to make its 2021 movie slate available on its streaming service at the same time as theaters, which he described as a “win-win-win” for consumers and partners.

Some in Hollywood have not shared CEO John Stankey’s enthusiasm. “Tenet” director Christopher Nolan on Monday slammed the move as akin to going to bed one evening while working for the best movie studio, and waking up the next day to find he worked for “the worst streaming service.”

Since October, AT&T’s streaming service, HBO Max, has added about 4 million customer “activations” to reach 12.6 million, Stankey said, while speaking at the UBS Global TMT Virtual Conference.

Activations are defined as customers who had access to the streaming service through their unlimited phone plans, for instance, and then activated their accounts to use the service.

NBCUniversal Chief Executive Jeff Shell told the same conference on Tuesday that his company’s streaming service, Peacock, has over 26 million signups.

AT&T’s Stankey added he expects the new movie distribution strategy to “accelerate” HBO Max’s growth.

John Stankey
AT&T CEO John Stankey
Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

AT&T felt the “psyche of the population and willingness to go back into large venues” was going to face a prolonged recovery, Stankey said.

“Giving theater owners a predictable release of content that they can work their business around is a good thing,” he said.

AT&T reported 38 million subscribers in the United States for both its premium TV channel, HBO, and HBO Max during the third quarter, reaching its 2021 goal a year early, as more people sought entertainment at home during the pandemic.

HBO Max previously had 8.6 million activations during the third quarter.

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