AT&T CEO blasts ‘bottlenecks’ created by Amazon, Roku impasses

AT&T is nearly five months out from the launch of HBO Max and the service still doesn’t have distribution agreements in place with Amazon or Roku.

CEO John Stankey, speaking today at the WSJ Tech Live event, said the impasses demonstrate how platform companies, not network providers, have begun to hamstring access to apps and services.

“Where the bottlenecks are sometimes occurring are in these commercial agreements,” he said, alluding to his company’s negotiations with Amazon and Apple’s standoff with Epic. “We should ask ourselves, is that friction somebody really feeling their oats and maybe having market power above and beyond what’s reasonable for innovation?”

Stankey said the focus needs to be on equity of rules and engagement to ensure that anybody who wants to innovate has equal access to platforms, which he said have more than 50% of share in many instances.

RELATED: AT&T doubles down in HBO Max fight with Amazon

AT&T said that it ended the second quarter with 36.3 million HBO and HBO Max subscribers, up from 34.6 million HBO subscribers at the end of 2019. One month after launch, HBO Max had approximately 3 million retail subscribers and 4.1 million HBO subscribers had activated their HBO Max accounts. Of those, more than 1 million were wholesale subscribers through AT&T.

HBO Max has been growing but not as fast as AT&T would like. That is partly due to the service being unavailable on Amazon Fire and Roku devices, which combined have more than 80 million active users.

However, Stankey recently told Bloomberg that he’s optimistic that HBO Max will land on one of those platforms “in relatively short order.” He also suggested that a deal with one may force the hand of the holdout, since it would be hard to “be the Lone Ranger standing out there on its own.”