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WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey on Early Disney Plus Success: ‘Good for Them’

WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey told the audience of Recode’s Code Media conference in Los Angeles Monday that Disney “did a good job” with Disney Plus, which announced that it reached 10 million sign-ups the day after the service’s launch.

“Good for them,” Stankey said. “They are off to a good start.” However, he also cautioned that early numbers may not be an indicator of long-term success. The question was how many of those customers would stick with Disney, or any other new service, 10 months after launch, Stankey suggested.

Stankey appeared at the conference just a few weeks after his company revealed key details about the launch of its own streaming service HBO Max. “We start at a little different position, with a different product,” Stankey said, referring to the fact that HBO Max will be tied at the hip to HBO’s existing services.

Over time, WarnerMedia wants to get HBO subscribers to transition to HBO Max, but Stankey said that the company wouldn’t push subscribers from one service to another. “We are not gonna make them do anything,” he promised.

Stankey also once again committed to keep the HBO brand intact, and not water down its programming. “Our HBO programming team is still the HBO programming team,” he said.

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Asked about net neutrality, Stankey dismissed fears that getting rid of the policy would result in anti-competitive behavior by media companies like AT&T. “It’s a problem that’s not existent,” Stankey said, suggesting that regulators should instead look at the way companies like Apple and Google treat apps distributed on their mobile platforms.

In addition to leading WarnerMedia, Stankey has also been the president and chief operating officer of AT&T since September. Elevating him to this role not only emphasized the importance AT&T puts on its media division and Stankey’s leadership of it, but also sets him up to possibly succeed AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson.

On Monday, Stankey fueled those rumors by saying that he didn’t plan to run WarnerMedia forever. Asked whether he was already searching for possible successors, Stankey said: “I started looking for talent the day I took the job.”

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