In his first appearance since being named to succeed AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, John Stankey told investors Wednesday that “there really isn’t a difference in direction” between himself and Stephenson.
Stankey spoke at JPMorgan’s 48th annual global technology, media and communications conference, which was held virtually this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The former WarnerMedia boss will take the reins July 1 as chief executive of AT&T, a telecom giant in the midst of a transition into a content and media company. Stephenson became CEO 13 years ago, swiftly relocated the headquarters to Dallas and began transforming the company beyond its roots as a phone service provider.
“The opportunity to shift this business over the next couple of years is significant,” Stankey told investors.
He said he was “laser focused” on building more efficiencies and on growth areas, such as continuing to invest in fast internet connections to homes and businesses.
Stankey pointed to the company’s big bet on the forthcoming streaming service HBO Max as its flagship product. It’s banking on HBO Max expanding its audience and getting it into more U.S. households.
HBO Max launches May 27, will cost $14.99 a month and, to start, will have 10,000 hours of programming. The new platform was made possible by Stephenson’s $108.7 billion deal to acquire Time Warner and its massive library of content from HBO, TNT, TBS and CNN.
Asked whether the pandemic accelerated cord-cutting, Stankey said he expected that economic hardship would lower discretionary spending for the foreseeable future and that, by the end of the year, pay TV customers might be looking for other ways to get entertainment.
Stankey noted that it’s an unfortunate time for many but said society’s response to the pandemic would be “great” for HBO Max because people are still “centered inside their home.”
The pandemic, however, has also halted the film business and production of new content for streaming.
“I certainly don’t want the current circumstances to extend too long,” he said, “because we’ve got to get back to production in order to keep the inventory fresh.”