AT&T is in the midst of spinning off WarnerMedia to combine it with Discovery, a deal expected to close in mid-2022 pending regulatory approvals. Kilar has told staffers that he expects to stay at WarnerMedia at least through early 2022.
Kilar, speaking at Vox Media’s Code Conference, said that the WarnerMedia CEO job “goes away once the [Discovery] transaction closes.” Asked if he was disappointed he won’t have the chance to continue leading the media conglomerate, Kilar responded, “I’m human, so in that context, yes.” He declined to discuss what his next venture might be.
Kilar, the one-time CEO of Hulu, said the last year and half he’s spent leading WarnerMedia has been the most professionally fulfilling stretch of his career. “I would far prefer this adventure to go on for 10 or 20 more years,” he acknowledged. “But that’s not the way corporate America works.”
Until the transaction closes, Kilar said, he’ll continue to work to “set up WarnerMedia for the next hundred years.”
Kilar was interviewed at the Code Conference by MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle, who questioned him about the backlash WarnerMedia received from Hollywood talent after the company announced it would release its entire 2021 film slate day-and-date on HBO Max and in theaters.
“We endeavored to do the right thing in terms of communication,” Kilar said. But, he said, “In hindsight, we should have taken the better part of a month to have the 170 conversations” with the talent represented on the Warner Bros. 2021 film slate. That said, even with the “compressed” timeline — Warner Bros. held all those discussions in less than a week, to move quickly and minimize the chance of leaks — Kilar noted that the day-and-date movie strategy primed HBO Max for subscriber growth into the service’s second year.
”We said from the start that we were going to treat every single film as though it were a blockbuster from an economic perspective for participants, that we were going to be fair and generous, and that we were going to do the right thing,” Kilar said.
The industry is peaking in terms of the investment in streaming, Kilar opined, saying that “it’s probably unsustainable” for some players to continue pouring money into their businesses at existing levels. That means there will be a shakeout coming, he said. “There will be a short number of services you care about on a daily basis,” he said.
WarnerMedia will spend “north of $18 billion” on content across all areas of the business in both 2021 and 2022, Kilar said, responding to Netflix’s forecast of spending $18 billion on content next year.
In addition to WarnerMedia, Kilar cited Netflix and Disney as well positioned to succeed in the direct-to-consumer streaming business. Meanwhile, for Amazon, entertainment is “not a hobby” and will be in the game for the long haul, he said.
Kilar also gave props to the strong bench of WarnerMedia execs, including Casey Bloys, chief content officer for HBO and HBO Max, and Channing Dungey, chairman and CEO of Warner Bros. Television Studios. “These are people who have honed their craft over decades,” Kilar said. “We get to be the team that welcomes them… and obviously storytellers choose to work with them.”
As of the end of June 2021, HBO Max and HBO subscribers had a total of 47.0 million subscribers in the U.S., a pickup of 2.85 million sequentially (and 10.7 million year-over-year). Globally, HBO and HBO Max had 67.5 million customers at the end of Q2, up 12 million in past year.
AT&T expects the Sept. 15 end of HBO on Amazon Prime Video Channels, which had about 5 million subs, to cause its total domestic HBO/HBO Max sub base to take a hit in the third quarter. But it reiterated its prior guidance for 70 million-73 million global HBO Max and HBO subscribers by the end of 2021. Most growth in the back half of 2021 will come from outside the U.S. after launching in 39 Latin American and Caribbean countries this summer, and with a European launch in six countries set for October, according to AT&T.