AT&T’s John Stankey Sees ‘Choppy’ Recovery for Movies, Concedes ‘Tenet’ Was Not ‘Home Run’

AT&T chief John Stankey sees a “choppy” recovery ahead for the movie business, forcing WarnerMedia to juggle numerous scenarios for theatrical releases during the upcoming holiday season.

During AT&T’s third quarter earnings call, Stankey acknowledged that the studio’s decision to release Christopher Nolan’s drama “Tenet” in the U.S. on Sept. 3 was underwhelming. But he does not regret the decision to be the first major studio to release a highly anticipated film in theaters during the pandemic.

“I can’t tell you walked away from the ‘Tenet’ experience saying it was a home run,” Stankey told investors on Thursday. But he added that “we’re happy we did it.”

Stankey said the holiday season is “the next check point” as to whether Warner Bros. can release more movies through traditional exhibition channels. At present, the studio is banking on releasing “Wonder Woman 1984” on Dec. 25. Stankey acknowledged that the studio is considering “plan A, plan B and plan C” for theatrical releases and will likely have to “make a game time decision on some of that.”

Stankey stopped short of committing to send high-wattage movie titles to HBO Max, a step that Disney has taken with success to respond to the extraordinary pandemic conditions that shuttered theaters around the globe.

Warner Bros.’ movie and TV productions are largely back on track after having to endure hasty shutdowns in mid-March as the coronavirus outbreak shuttered most businesses and sent Americans into quarantine conditions. Stankey said about 180 projects were in some form of development or production when the first wave of shutdowns hit. Today, about 130 are back in action.

“We’re well back into that ramp back up,” he said.

More to come

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