Randall Stephenson, chairman and CEO of AT&T (T) stated that the company continues to be laser-focused on its debt reduction targets. During the company’s Q4 earnings call, he told analysts that their “top priority for 2019 is driving down debt.”
The media conglomerate’s debt peaked at $180 billion in 2018, topped off after the $85.4 billion purchase of Time Warner. By the end of the year, the number had dropped to $171 billion. The 2019 target is to drop it down to $150 billion.
CFO John Stephens highlighted the record-high free cash flow reached in 2018 ($22.4 billion) to signal the company’s capacity to reach said goal. Double digit operating income growth by WarnerMedia was a big factor in the result, thanks to its Warner Bros, HBO and Turner units’ performances.
The topic of coveted IP ‘Friends’ being licensed out to Netflix (NFLX) inevitably rose again. Despite the $100 estimated price tag, investors were curious about the endgame – considering that WarnerMedia will enter the streaming game later in 2019. Stephenson cleared out the air by revealing that the deal is non-exclusive, meaning that ‘Friends’ will likely also be available on their own service. Going forward, future decisions will be done on a case-by-case basis.
“Each of these decisions will be evaluated in terms of how critical it is to have it on our platform exclusively versus the economics of licensing it to others,” he said. “Having a 90-year inventory of incredible IP is a really important thing. If you look out on the landscape of what is being consumed (on other streaming services), you’d be surprised how much of that is Warner Bros. intellectual property,” Stephenson added.
AT&T’s Q4 earnings report was met with mixed reviews by analysts. However, the fact that its heads are consistently tackling the issue of debt reduction was considered a silver lining. Stephenson also revealed that they’re still looking at asset sales to offset the large debt load that the company’s carrying. Next up could be a 10% stake in Hulu that came in with the Time Warner purchase.