It's Not TV, It's AT&T

By Drew FitzGeraldFeaturesDow Jones Newswires

AT&T Inc.'s chief plans to take a hands-on role running Time Warner Inc., giving his executive team broad influence over the sports and entertainment company that the telecommunications provider hopes to acquire.

Speaking to investors at a J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. conference in Boston Tuesday morning, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said his company could help make Time Warner programming more phone-friendly and boost its advertising rates above where they would be for both stand-alone companies.

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"We have a significant amount of unique viewership data on our customers, " Mr. Stephenson said, noting that the company already uses information from about 150 billion to 200 billion impressions -- ad spots viewers are exposed to -- from phone and satellite subscribers to sell more expensive ads. "You put the two companies together, it's bordering on one trillion impressions per year."

The money made from more targeted advertising could free up AT&T to run fewer commercials, Mr. Stephenson added, and make Time Warner's content stand out in a crowded media field.

AT&T last year offered to buy the parent of CNN, HBO and Turner's cable broadcasting channels in an $85.4 billion cash-and-stock deal. The combination, which awaits regulatory approval, was designed to diversify the telecom giant's revenue as growth slows in the wireless and satellite TV businesses.

Time Warner raked in more than $29 billion of revenue last year, though much of it came from a pay-TV business under pressure from cost-conscious viewers dropping their cable plans. Phone users, on the other hand, are spending more time than ever watching video on small screens, a trend AT&T executives have used to justify the purchase, along with the ad revenue it would bring.

But the company would employ its user data for more than just ads. Mr. Stephenson said Tuesday that knowledge of what people are watching could help executives make smarter decisions about which movies and TV shows to green light.

"I'll cause Plepler at HBO to panic when I say this," Mr. Stephenson said, referring to HBO Chief Executive Richard Plepler, "but can you begin to think about things like 'Game of Thrones' as an example, where in a mobile environment, a 60-minute episode may not be the best experience. Should you think about 20-minute episodes?"

At the same time, the AT&T chief dismissed the idea that the company cut off other TV distributors' customers from Time Warner's hit shows.

"You can't think about taking 'Game of Thrones' and you're only going to make it available to AT&T customers," he said. "That's crazy."

Write to Drew FitzGerald at

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 23, 2017 13:18 ET (17:18 GMT)