AT&T CEO John Stankey “Not Optimistic” On Theatrical; “I Can’t Tell You We Walked Away From The ‘Tenet’ Experience Saying It Was A Home Run”


John Stankey, CEO of WarnerMedia parent AT&T, said productions – with about 130 underway since last week – are up and running but “the question is, what does exhibition look like?”

“We don’t have great visibility on that,” Stankey said, speaking on a conference call after the telco, cable and media entertainment giant reported third-quarter earnings Wednesday. “I can’t tell you we walked away from the Tenet experiment saying it was a home run.”

Warner Bros. released the Christopher Nolan film Labor Day weekend to jumpstart exhibition. But it didn’t deliver the hoped for bang, especially with theaters in New York and California closed. That remains a major roadblock, Stankey said. Some theaters in California are open and others in New York State can reopen this Friday but core markets Los Angeles and New York City remain dark.

“I think we learned a few things about what we can do. I think if theatres were open nationally, if California and New York were open, we would have some latitude. … If there’s a more consistent footprint we can do more,” he said.

He called the holiday season the “next big checkpoint” for theatrical distribution – but it all depends on what’s happening with COVID infection rates, he said. They’ve been trending higher across the country this fall.

“We are expecting for this to be incredibly choppy moving into next year. We are not optimistic, not expecting a recovery into next year,” he said. So WarnerMedia is exploring all options — Plan A, Plan B and Plan C, which he didn’t detail. “As we move forward and see we will call the cards” on the plans.

His comments followed remarks on production, which is in relatively good shape. He said 130 productions are currently going versus about 180 that were underway pre-pandemic. “I don’t think we have to get back to 180 by the way,” he said, and that’s okay.

Production has “clearly got through most of the hurdles in terms of working with “geographies where we operate,” guilds and unions and gaining the confidence of employees.

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