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AT&T Chief: HBO Max Will ‘Ultimately’ Offer Live News, Sports

AT&T chief Randall Stephenson told investors Wednesday that the HBO Max streaming service set to launch next spring will eventually include live sports and news programming.

Stephenson talked up his enthusiasm for WarnerMedia’s nascent direct-to-consumer platform during the telco giant’s second-quarter earnings conference call with Wall Street analysts.

“You should assume that ultimately HBO Max will have live elements: Unique live sports and premium sports,” Stephenson said. “Those are going to be really, really important elements for HBO Max. The same with news.”

Stephenson cited WarnerMedia’s existing relationships with Major League Baseball, the NBA and NCAA men’s basketball tournament but it was unclear if he was indicating that HBO Max would seek to acquire streaming rights from those leagues. “There’s a lot of opportunity to take advantage of the unique content deals that we have within WarnerMedia,” he said.

Also Wednesday, AT&T set Oct. 29 as the date for an investor presentation that will offer details about HBO Max launch plans.  The presentation will be held on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank. Stephenson said WarnerMedia would offer more “visibility” at the presentation into HBO’s growth trajectory with subscriber growth via the standalone HBO Now service and from the new breed of digital MVPDs.

HBO saw linear subscriber losses in the second quarter — a surprise given that the period encompassed the final season airing of “Game of Thrones” and an indication that HBO’s nine-month (and counting) blackout on DirecTV rival Dish Network is taking a toll. “We added a lot of digital (HBO) subscribers” thanks to “Game of Thrones,” Stephenson asserted.

Stephenson once again emphasized to analysts that the marriage of content and distribution via AT&T’s wireless networks was the key driver of the telco’s acquisition of Time Warner, which closed near the end of the second quarter last year. He added that DirecTV’s high-end customer base will also be a natural driver for HBO Max subscriptions.

“HBO Max will be a key part of this wireless strategy as we get into next year — pairing unique premium video content with our wireless, TV and broadband business,” Stephenson said. “HBO Max is going to be something special in the marketplace.”

AT&T also plans to begin testing out what it calls a “thin client product” dubbed AT&T TV that will offer broadband service and a limited number of channels. It appears to be AT&T’s response to the fast- declining subscriber base of DirecTV Now, the lower-cost streaming platform launched in late 2017.

AT&T TV “will be the workhorse over the next couple of years,” Stephenson said, noting that it will offer “a lower price point to shore up this customer base over the next couple of years.”

Investors seemed impressed with AT&T’s results, announced before the market opened. Shares were up 3% at the start of trading Wednesday after closing Tuesday at $32.09.

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