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AT&T Mobility’s David Christopher on Time Warner Merger, DirecTV Acquisition and Going Hollywood

David Christopher, chief marketing officer of AT&T Mobility’s Entertainment Group, talked to Variety about the wireless provider’s ventures in Hollywood as it aims to compete in the new media landscape. Christopher is re-locating from Atlanta to El Segundo, Calif., along with the rest of the Entertainment Group, as the company ramps up its video offerings following the 2015 acquisition of DirecTV by AT&T. The company is also awaiting regulatory approval for the merger with Time Warner, which would give it access to a litany of video content, including HBO and CNN. AT&T last week hosted an expo that brought together Hollywood figures like “Zero Dark Thirty” director Kathryn Bigelow and others. The event featured hands-on demonstration of the latest technology, like VR, expected to disrupt the filmmaking business.

What can we expect to see from AT&T now that its Entertainment Group is relocating to Hollywood?
If you step back a minute, there’s this big convergence going on between telecom and media, and we believe the opportunity to create new and great experiences for customer is the opportunity in front of us. We’re moving to Entertainment Group Marking and Advertising to L.A. to be closer to the creative community, closer to entrepreneurs. We think that proximity to Hollywood and Silicon Beach is so important. And so, that’s what we’re up to.

Where does AT&T fit in the shifting media landscape?
There’s no one-size-fits-all with media or entertainment. We are investing heavily in our premium TV business. We’re investing in over-the-top streaming businesses with DirecTV Now; we’re investing in made-for-digital content via our partnership with the Chernin Group and a joint venture we have called Otter Media. That joint venture has some really important companies in it. Fullscreen Media, as an example, is a made-for-digital company, made for millennial, by millennials. It has 70 billion views at any given time. Crunchyroll is (another) example, it’s a Japanese anime company. We are investing across the media landscape to meet the wide variety of customer needs that are out there.

With the existing wireless customer base, what will AT&T do to make sure it remains competitive as more consumers watch video on their mobile devices?
Roughly 70% of the traffic on our network is video, and we’ve been architecting our mobile network to be a video-first network for years. We’ve changed our plans to be unlimited because that’s what customers want. When you have DirecTV and Mobility, your content streams are basically free. We’ve been making really important steps to create a best-in-class, entertainment-plus mobile experience.

What about specific products AT&T customers can look forward to?
We really believe in in a “better together” concept: the more you engage with AT&T, the better it gets. An example of that, is our unlimited customers who have DirecTV can get DirecTV for $25 with a premium TV service or $10 for DirecTV now. You can expect more of that from us.

What’s the value of a merger with Time Warner?
The merger with Time Warner is about innovation in the premium video space. It’s about delivering entertainment where and when and how customers want it. That’s why we’re excited about the merger.

Looking out a few years, how quickly do you see things changing and how should companies react to cord-cutting by customers?
We believe in creating a broad array of solutions for different customers. Several years ago we weren’t participating in the over-the-top space at all. Roughly 20% … of the American population doesn’t have a premium video subscription at all. Before we launched DirecTV Now, we weren’t even playing in that space. Having solutions for different customers, whether it be premium, whether it be streaming, whether it be made-for-digital, made-for-social is what we are doing and innovating in each of those areas is critical for us and critical for any company.

What challenges does a fractured media landscape pose for media companies
Media will continue to fragment and it creates an opportunity for companies that can create solutions for different cohorts of customers, no matter what they want. There will be a really important premium TV business and at the same time there will be an important, over-the-top streaming business, and there will be an important social, only consumed-on-digital business. We’ve got to be adept to meet each of those markets.

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