AT&T's Wild Week: John Stankey Takes Control Ahead of HBO Max Launch
Sam primarily covers entertainment and media for dot.LA. Previously he was Marjorie Deane Fellow at The Economist, where he wrote for the business and finance sections of the print edition. He has also worked at the XPRIZE Foundation, U.S. Government Accountability Office, KCRW, and MLB Advanced Media (now Disney Streaming Services). He holds an MBA from UCLA Anderson, an MPP from UCLA Luskin and a BA in History from University of Michigan. Email him at samblake@dot.LA and find him on Twitter @hisamblake
It's been a busy week for AT&T.
On Tuesday, its WarnerMedia subsidiary revealed HBO Max will launch on May 27th; on Wednesday, it released first-quarter earnings; and on Friday, the Dallas-headquartered conglomerate shuffled its leadership with CEO-Chairman Randall Stephenson handing over power to current President-COO John Stankey. A leadership change has been in the works since 2017, according to a company statement.
John Stankey will become CEO of AT&T on July 1st, 2020.
Stankey, who will assume the CEO mantle on July 1st, will soon relinquish his current CEO perch atop WarnerMedia, which oversees HBO Max. He takes the reins at AT&T amid a period of corporate transition, which largely centers around the new streaming service that will fall under the direct purview of former Hulu chief Jason Kilar.
AT&T has borne its fair share of recent scorn. Activist investor Elliott Management has publicly criticized the firm, questioning the strategy behind the acquisitions of DirecTV in 2015 for $49 billion ($67.1 billion including debt) and Time Warner in 2018 for $85 billion. According to media analyst Matthew Ball, AT&T now holds more debt than at any time in its history.
The company is pinning a lot of hopes onto HBO Max, which will reportedly launch with over 10,000 hours of content at a subscription price of $14.99 per month. In addition to HBO programming, HBO Max will also include content from the vast WarnerMedia library (Warner Bros., CNN, TNT, DC Entertainment, Cartoon Network, and more), dozens of new original films and series, and a variety of licensed assets.
Making It Fit
Media analyst Bruce Leichtman told dot.LA that HBO Max is a critical piece that AT&T is trying to fit into its large puzzle of corporate business units.
The firm, Leichtman said, has recently eschewed lower-value customers on its pay-TV businesses (DirecTV, AT&T U-Verse and AT&T TV Now), resulting in a quick loss of over 4 million subscribers in 2019 (up from about 750,000 in 2018). AT&T alone accounted for over 80% of total U.S. pay-TV net losses last year. Importantly, Leichtman noted, this did not correspond to a proportional drop in income, since these were primarily lower-margin customers.
Looking forward, HBO Max will be included gratis in "select AT&T wireless, video and internet plans," AT&T has said. The hope is to entice relatively profitable customers to pony up by bundling high-margin services with the content bonanza.
"I think what we're seeing is an attempt to fit all these parts together," summarized Leichtman
Additionally, by moving into over-the-top (OTT) streaming, AT&T will have an opportunity to more aggressively leverage its HBO asset.
"They always thought," Leichtman said, "they had an undervalued asset in HBO. They looked and said, 'Why isn't HBO Netflix?'"
HBO Max will be included gratis in "select AT&T wireless, video and internet plans." live.staticflickr.com
HBO Max presents AT&T at least two valuable opportunities to grow its corporate footprint. First, it may be able to capitalize on a public market that seems bullish on streaming.
"They are astounded, not necessarily by Netflix as a service, but more so by the valuation," Leichtman said. Whether you call it exuberance or foresight, AT&T wants a piece. And the coronavirus lockdown may help them get it.
"If anything in media stands to benefit from people being locked in their homes, OTT and pay-TV services are it," wrote Doug Creutz from Cowen & Company in a report earlier this week.
HBO Max will also give AT&T a chance to capture a younger audience, Leichtman suggested, which the company does not reach as easily through its current channels as it may with a direct-to-consumer streaming service.
The Cowen & Company report forecasted HBO Max's total U.S. paid subscribers in 2024 at 24 million. That projection places it sixth in the so-called streaming wars, behind Amazon Prime (83.4 million), Netflix (72 million), Hulu (43.8 million), Disney+ (37.2 million) and Apple TV+ (31.3 million). Given HBO Max's relatively high price, though, and its potential synergies with the rest of the company, that position may suit AT&T just fine.
Now it's on Stankey, and the newly appointed Kilar, to make it happen.
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It's never been a better time to "murder your thirst."
Seven months after raising more than $9 million in Series A funding, Santa Monica-based canned water startup Liquid Death has raised $23 million in Series B funding.
The round was led by an unnamed consumer-focused family office and participated in by Convivialité Ventures, Fat Mike (NOFX), Pat McAfee, existing investor in Velvet Sea Ventures and others.
Eliminating battery waste, developing new hair growth therapy, fixing carbon dioxide. These are among some of the ambitious problems that companies are trying to solve at the First Look SoCal Innovation Showcase beginning Tuesday.
Hosted by nonprofit Alliance for SoCal Innovation, the online event connects early-stage tech and life science companies with investors and serial entrepreneurs.
BioZen Batteries Aims to Solve Our Energy Storage Issues<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://dot.la/media-library/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDI0Nzg5MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNTg3OTYyNn0.y9dSMjovB1GtsQ1SZhKiPTIJY3VW0XOE2YXd-JN1xYU/image.jpg?width=980" id="95064" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c3ad9197ad70005802e6d34d6da3c29d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Left to right: BioZen Batteries' co-founders Zach Rengert, Nate Kirchhofer and Eric Brigham.<p>Nate Kirchhofer, co-founder and CEO of <a href="https://biozenbatteries.com/" target="_blank">BioZen Batteries</a>, wants to make batteries that will outlive him.</p><p>Santa Barbara-based BioZen creates organic electrolytes, the active material inside a specific type of battery called a "redox flow battery." It's a different type of technology that differs from the lithium batteries often used in mobile applications like cars and phones. Only 5% of those get recycled.</p><p>BioZen's batteries are well suited for green, large-scale energy storage, Kirchhofer said. For example, batteries that help solar panels connect to the grid or provide backup during disasters when the power goes out.</p><p>Kirchhofer, an electrochemist, founded the company in June of 2019 with Zach Rengert, a materials chemist, and Eric Brigham, the company's CFO. Kirchhofer and Rengert met while getting their doctorate at UC Santa Barbara.</p><p>There hasn't yet been a push for sustainable batteries because it isn't economically incentivized, Kirchhofer told dot.LA. He said that his batteries are cheaper than competitors.</p><p>Kirchhofer's product fits into a growing renewable energy market and a social movement in which individuals want to do their part. He's worked for four startups but says this one is poised to make the biggest impact.</p><p>"If it's not our generation that solves climate change, there's not another chance. There's not another Earth." he said. "If we can make these batteries happen, we can truly integrate renewable energy and stop the petroleum-dominated energy paradigm we're part of."</p>
Amplifica's founder Dr. Maksim Plikus
Amplifica Treats Baldness with Mole Molecules<p>Back in 2013, Amplifica's founder Dr. Maksim Plikus began studying hairy moles. Though some find the growths unsightly, his work showed promise for baldness treatment.</p><p>He, along with colleagues at UC Irvine, discovered that molecules from moles that grow excessive hair can induce follicle growth when administered anywhere on the skin.</p><p>"As long as you can tease it out and replicate it in the form of purified molecules, you can achieve essentially what we think would be a novel, revolutionary solution to baldness," Plikus told dot.LA.</p><p>Plikus said his company is the first to solve hair loss by replicating cells from hairy moles to stimulate hair growth. At the moment, hair follicle research has emerged as a leading experimental model for studying stem cells.</p><p>By 2025, hair-loss products are projected to surpass $12 billion, Plikus said. But only two drugs are FDA approved and require daily treatment in the form of pills, which he said come with long-term side effects.</p><p>Amplifica says it's poised to put a more effective and convenient solution on the market. Pinkus' proposed product is a topical solution requiring less frequent application, like getting Botox injections a few times per year.</p>
FixingCO2 Aims to Recycle Fuel from the Air<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://dot.la/media-library/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDI0ODM4My9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMzA1ODA4MH0.9RqwD9zUN1et1kor8zNPj8WH2kOX6SrysdpRDFT5QMc/image.jpg?width=980" id="daa89" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9851b177139c4b5e06bd9c96fb395083" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
FixingCO2's team. CEO Eldar Akhmetgaliyev is at right.<p><a href="https://fixingco2.com/" target="_blank">FixingCO2</a> got its start on Mars. Like the name says, the company aims to fix the global carbon problem that's fueling climate change.</p><p>In 2018, co-founder Alma Zhanaidarova's professor and research group at UC San Diego received a grant from NASA to build out a reactor that makes renewable fuels and chemicals from carbon dioxide, often a byproduct of industrial waste. The technology was being developed in anticipation of a one-day human mission to Mars, where 95% of the atmosphere is carbon dioxide.</p><p>Now, the San Diego-based startup is commercializing their product for earthlings.</p><p>"It's a different application but the same core technology," co-founder Eldar Akhmetgaliyev told dot.LA. "Instead of making fuels from oil or any other fossil sources, we can make them essentially from air."</p><p>The team is developing the hardware to capture industrial emissions blamed for much of the Earth's warming. The product has significant application for the aviation industry, where planes are built to burn jet fuel that produces carbon emissions.</p><p>"These kinds of technologies provide them a pathway to decarbonization," he said. "They can use fuels made from CO2 so they're not contributing to climate change."</p><p>As fires burn through California and the Pacific Northwest, Akhmetgaliyev said there's urgency for innovators in the carbon tech market. "We're pretty much turning our planet into Mars," he said.</p><p>He said that by 2050, about 14% of overall carbon reduction will come from carbon capture and utilization (CCUS) technology like his.</p><p>"The market hasn't met its opportunity and with the effects of climate change being seen everyday, there's going to be more drive towards these low carbon technologies."</p>
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