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AT&T now has the goods to take on Netflix and Disney in the streaming wars

Daniel Roberts
Senior Writer

One week after a federal appeals court upheld AT&T’s $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner, AT&T is making rapid moves to combine entertainment assets.

WarnerMedia announced on Monday a massive reshuffle that combines channels and properties and involves new executive appointments.

Former NBC exec Bob Greenblatt is the new chairman of WarnerMedia Entertainment and Direct-to-Consumer. That division will combine HBO with Turner channels TNT, TBS, and TruTV; plus WarnerMedia’s forthcoming DTC (streaming) offering.

CNN president Jeff Zucker will oversee WarnerMedia News & Sports. That division now includes CNN and all its many sub-brands; Turner Sports; Bleacher Report; and AT&T’s four regional sports networks (RSNs), three of which are branded AT&T SportsNet.

Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara will now also oversee Turner’s animation properties, which includes Cartoon Network and its merchandise and licensing arm, plus Turner Classic Movies.

Finally, it should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the usual Step 2 of these mega-mergers that Dow Jones is reporting “significant layoffs” are coming to WarnerMedia.

So, what does all of this mean for AT&T and streaming?

David E. Kelley, from left, Nicole Kidman and Meryl Streep participate in the "Big Little Lies" panel during the HBO portion of the TCA Winter Press Tour on Friday, Feb. 8, 2019, in Pasadena, Calif. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

AT&T already offers the OTT subscription services DirecTV Now and WatchTV, but WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey said in the fall that WarnerMedia would launch its own streaming service in late 2019.

You may recall who else is launching a highly-anticipated streaming service in late 2019: Disney. Its own Disney+ service will have original shows and tons of Marvel, Star Wars, and Pixar content, and its launch will mean the removal of tons of Disney titles from Netflix.

To compete with Disney, Netflix, and everyone else in this crowded space—a realm in which consumers may fast be approaching a saturation point of paying for too many standalone packages—AT&T has to roll out something chock full of high-gloss content.

And now that it has so many different channels under one umbrella, it can.

Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance

According to reports from November, WarnerMedia plans multiple price tiers of its streaming subscription: a base level with WarnerMedia TV content; a middle level with TV plus some movies; and a highest-end with premium content from HBO. The highest tier will also have lots of new original content exclusive to the DTC package; last month, WarnerMedia named TNT exec Sarah Aubrey (a producer on “Friday Night Lights” and “The Leftovers”) its head of original content.

In an interview today with Variety, Greenblatt appears to confirm the multi-tiered plan (and uses the word “tiered”) but is still vague on details. “How it will be tiered and all of that is still in the working stages,” Greenblatt tells Variety. “HBO will be part of it, Turner programming will be part of it, and original programming will be part of it. The volume for each of those and how much we’re going to spend — it’s too early to get too specific on it. We want to bulk up with as much great stuff as we can.” He reiterates, “HBO is central to the whole thing.”

What might that mean for HBO Now, the standalone service that allows consumers to pay $14 a month to get HBO’s entire library, without a cable subscription?

AT&T could leave that alone for consumers who want to pay just for HBO, but wouldn’t a new service that includes HBO plus other original content make HBO Now redundant?

With HBO and Turner Sports now under one umbrella, the top tier of WarnerMedia’s streaming package could look attractive enough to get HBO Now subscribers to pay more than the $15 they’re paying. Imagine a platform that has every HBO series and movie, plus NBA content from TNT and TBS, plus other sports content from Turner Sports, plus Bleacher Report’s excellent digital programming.

Along those same lines, we could see changes to Bleacher Report’s B/R Live streaming platform, which has the rights to some games from UEFA Champions League, National Lacrosse League, Alliance of American Football and more (but famously failed during the Tiger Woods vs Phil Mickelson showdown in November).

HBO and Bleacher Report are just two of many examples of content that could end up appearing in multiple places within the new AT&T content world. And given that the company is about to make major cuts to streamline inefficiencies, it may decide it is redundant to have overlaps between its multiple DTC products.

A WarnerMedia spokesperson declined to comment to Yahoo Finance on the record about its specific DTC plans.

As consumers wait to get the specifics on the forthcoming WarnerMedia DTC offerings, look for the streaming conversation in the second half of 2019 to be all about Disney+ vs AT&T vs Netflix.

Here’s the biggest question everyone in the streaming business now faces: How many different standalone subscriptions are consumers willing to pay for?

Daniel Roberts is a senior writer at Yahoo Finance and closely covers streaming media. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.

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