“I’ll cause [HBO CEO Richard] Plepler to panic,” Stephenson said, speaking Tuesday morning at J.P. Morgan’s Global Technology, Media and Telecom Conference. But “think about things like ‘Game of Thrones.’ In a mobile environment, a 60-minute episode might not be the best experience. Maybe you want a 20-minute episode.”
Stephenson was underscoring his point that AT&T — which is in the midst of closing its $85 billion deal for Time Warner — sees a tremendous opportunity to increase the revenue yield on mobile distribution of the media conglomerate’s entertainment assets. And his suggestion of truncating “GOT” episodes also provide a glimpse into how Time Warner may evolve under AT&T’s stewardship.
For AT&T, the No. 1 priority for 2017 is to get the Time Warner deal closed, Stephenson said. “We’re spending most of our waking hours on getting that done,” he said. The acquisition is pending approval by the U.S. Department of Justice.
In 2015, the telco charged into the entertainment space with its DirecTV deal. Now, with Time Warner, AT&T has “the ability… to curate Time Warner content uniquely for a mobile environment,” the exec said.
Stephenson added that AT&T has no intentions of piping Time Warner content exclusively to the telco’s wireless and broadband subscriber base (which would also raise regulatory alarm bells). “You’re not going to take ‘Game of Thrones’ and make it available only to AT&T customers. That’s crazy. That would destroy the value,” he said.
Rather, AT&T is eager to develop an ad-supported infrastructure around Turner and Warner Bros. content and expand mobile distribution for HBO.
According to Stephenson, AT&T and DirecTV deliver 250 billion ad impressions per year, while Time Warner in total serves up 750 billion. AT&T is able to monetize that inventory at a far higher rate — two to three times higher — than traditional media companies, because it has direct access to user behavioral data, Stephenson said.
“We think we can drive the yields on [Time Warner’s] media and entertainment business up significantly,” said Stephenson, noting that the combo of AT&T, DirecTV, and Time Warner will create an entity “bordering on 1 trillion impressions” annually.
In addition, AT&T is exploring opportunities to cross-promote Warner Bros. franchises likes DC Comics and Turner’s Boomerang cartoons in the telco’s stores and via pay TV, Stephenson said.
Stephenson also addressed the FCC’s vote last week to reverse the Obama-era classification of broadband service under Title II under chairman Ajit Pai. He said the agency is heading toward “a more rational place.”
“The FCC was headed down a path with Title II of hyper-regulation of every facet of broadband industry,” the AT&T chief said.
AT&T supports network neutrality principles of open, nondiscriminatory access to internet networks, Stephenson said. But, he said, there’s a better way to enact those than using a “blunt hammer from 1934” – referring to Title II, originally adopted to regulate the telephone industry. Congress needs to move forward on legislation that sets net neutrality rules for the industry, he said.
Another big strategic priority for AT&T in the year ahead is getting 5G wireless broadband from the initial testing phases into commercial deployment, Stephenson said. Initially, 5G will be used to deliver fixed-wireless broadband given that 5G-compatible handsets aren’t expected until 2019.
Next-generation 5G technology “is a way to leapfrog deployment of gigabit into the home and the business,” Stephenson said.