While the production company — led by Star Wars director J.J. Abrams and his wife/co-CEO Katie McGrath — was already working with Warner Bros. to create shows like “Castle Rock” and “Westworld,” this new deal is an exclusive agreement covering TV, theatrical films, games (it formed a games division with Tencent last year) and content for digital platforms.
“WarnerMedia and AT&T are delighted to launch a long-term collaboration with our world-class partners and colleagues J.J. Abrams and Katie McGrath,” said WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey in a statement. “We are extremely excited about the potential to deliver remarkable and memorable stories and characters across multiple platforms to audiences around the world. J.J., Katie and all of Bad Robot bring extraordinary vision, exquisite filmmaking, and exemplary industry leadership to this endeavor and our company.”
WarnerMedia is planning to launch its streaming service HBO Max next year, and these kinds of exclusive production deals could be an important weapon in the upcoming streaming wars. After all, reclaiming the rights to “Friends” is nice, but subscribers are also going to want fresh content.
Companies like NBCUniversal and Apple were reportedly pursuing a deal with Bad Robot as well. WarnerMedia seemed to emerge as the winner earlier this summer, but the deal wasn’t official until yesterday.
Although the financial terms were not disclosed, The Hollywood Reporter says the deal is worth $250 million.
WarnerMedia says that under this agreement, Bad Robot will make TV shows under the Warner Bros. Television Group umbrella, but it will still be able to sell those shows to “external outlets.” It also says Bad Robot will honor existing feature film commitments at Paramount — and of course, Disney will release Abrams’ next film as director, “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.”
According to the official announcement, this is a new position reporting directly to AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson. Stankey will take on the new position on October 1 while continuing to serve as WarnerMedia CEO.
“Now is the time to more tightly align our collection of world-class content, scaled consumer relationships, technical know-how and innovative advertising technology,” Stephenson said in a statement. He also described Stankey — who’s been at AT&T since 1985 — as “an outstanding executive who has led nearly every area of our business, helped shape our strategy and excelled at operations throughout his career.”
The company also announced that Jeff McElfresh will become CEO of AT&T Communications, replacing John Donovan, who is retiring. (FYI: TechCrunch is owned by AT&T competitor Verizon.)
These shifts come as WarnerMedia is preparing to launch its big streaming play HBO Max next year. The service will include HBO proper, along with other streaming content. It also comes after some notable departures at WarnerMedia, including HBO’s Richard Plepler and Kevin Tsujihara of Warner Bros.