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AT&T will pull popular shows like Friends from streaming competitors, says CEO

Shows and films will become exclusive to AT&T’s streaming service

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AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson confirmed today that AT&T is planning to pull WarnerMedia-owned content like Friends and ER from rival streaming services and offer it exclusively on AT&T’s upcoming streaming service.

“We are going to have to take a lot of the great content we own that’s been licensed elsewhere and bring that back into the fold,” Stephenson said at a conference in Dallas, as reported by The Dallas News.

Stephenson’s comments echo what Kevin Reilly, TBS and TNT president overseeing WarnerMedia’s streaming service, told television critics in February. Reilly suggested AT&T was “willing” to remove WarnerMedia’s “crown jewels” from Netflix and Hulu in order to offer those shows and films directly to AT&T consumers on its own platform.

“I think for the most part, sharing destination assets like that is not a good model to share — my belief is that they should be exclusive,” Reilly said, as reported by Deadline.

Taking popular shows from services like Netflix and Hulu makes sense for AT&T as it tries to convince consumers to subscribe to the platform. It’s also a significant strike against rival companies. Some of Netflix’s most popular shows are WarnerMedia properties, including Friends, which Netflix executives paid $100 million to stream exclusively through 2019. That number may seem obscene, but Friends is one of the most-watched shows on Netflix, according to data from numerous analytics firms. A report from The Wall Street Journal also suggested that licensed content from studios like WarnerMedia and NBCUniversal “made up 72% of the minutes people spent watching Netflix as of October, according to the Nielsen data.”

Companies like Disney, which will soon have full ownership of Hulu, are aware of how important licensed programming is for their services. Disney CEO Bob Iger told investors last week that when WarnerMedia sold its 10 percent stake in Hulu to Disney, part of the deal was conditioned on some kind of “ongoing relationship tied to their product including their channels.” Iger declined to get into specifics about that deal.

As Disney, NBCUniversal, Apple, and AT&T gear up to launch their own streaming services, subscribers continue to wonder where popular licensed content like Friends and The Office will end up. AT&T’s streaming service will launch later this year, and it will focus heavily on content from prestige networks like HBO. A recent report from The Information suggests that AT&T is going all-in on WarnerMedia’s streaming platform, suggesting that some series may roll out to the SVOD platform first, instead of through traditional linear TV networks. The Information suggested AT&T’s streaming service will be priced between “$10 and $20 a month” when it does launch.