At a tech and media conference on Tuesday AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said that the company will yank WarnerMedia content from other streaming services so that the assets will be exclusive to the streaming service his company is launching soon. That would mean that Netflix would lose popular shows like Friends and Hulu is going to lose audience favorites like ER.
AT&T “will be bringing a lot of these media rights, licensing rights back to ourselves to put on our own SVOD (subscription video-on-demand) product,” Stephenson said, according to The Dallas Morning News, which covered Stephenson’s comments at the conference.
As the Verge points out, Stephenson only reinforces what TBS and TNT president Kevin Reilly—who is overseeing the new WarnerMedia streaming service—said in February. At the Television Critics Association press tour, Reilly told attendees to “expect the crown jewels of Warner” to land on their new streaming service.
“Pulling it away (from Netflix)? It’s certainly something we’re willing to do,” Reilly said, according to Deadline—adding that he doesn’t think sharing assets is a good model and his “belief is that they should be exclusive.”
The move would be a major blow to Netflix. The company paid $100 million for exclusive streaming rights for Friends through 2019. Analytics firm Jumpshot showed late last year that Friends was the second- or third-most watched show on Netflix. And, as Wall Street Journal highlighted, 72 percent of Netflix viewers’ watch time is spent on non-original content, much of which is owned by WarnerMedia. The move would only add to Netflix’s incoming difficulties with the launch of Disney’s new streaming service. A recent survey conducted by Hollywood Reporter and Morning Consult showed that 28 percent of Netflix users said they would cancel their account if Disney pulled all their titles—including Marvel and Star Wars properties—from Netflix.
This news comes on the same day that Disney announced that it would take over full control of Hulu from its partner Comcast in a multi-billion dollar deal. That means that Netflix will be facing the sharp elbows of the most powerful media company in the world on multiple streaming fronts. It also means that Netflix could have an opportunity to license Comcast’s content. Alas, Comcast subsidiary NBCUniversal is expected to launch its own streaming service soon and it will, of course, want to keep the best content to itself.
When AT&T was pushing to get federal approval to purchase Time-Warner, the company argued that the merger was necessary for AT&T to compete with the likes of Amazon, Apple, and Netflix. But that argument completely ignored the fact that AT&T owns the assets that many of those platforms have come to rely on. This imminent power move by AT&T shows exactly why the Department of Justice should have stopped the merger before it was too late.