AT&T CEO muses about 20-minute mobile versions of Game of Thrones

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TV series are shaped by the format of TV network programming — half-hour or one-hour blocks, with or without space for commercial breaks, depending on the network. But more and more people are watching them on mobile phones and tablets, while TV companies are becoming more and more closely intertwined with mobile carriers. So what does the marriage of TV and smartphone look like? AT&T’s CEO Randall Stephenson offered some hints in a speech this week.

At JPMorgan’s Global Technology, Media and Telecom Conference, Stephenson spoke of curating “premium content … uniquely for a mobile environment” as a new way to make money, now that AT&T is close to merging with massive media company Time Warner. “It will cause [Richard] Plepler at HBO to panic when I say this, but can you begin to think about things like Game of Thrones as an example, where in a mobile environment a 60-minute episode may not be the best experience, should you think about 20-minute episodes?”

Stephenson later made clear that while Time Warner-owned HBO will be tied to AT&T after the merger, “You can’t think about taking Game of Thrones and [only making] it available to AT&T customers, that’s crazy.” Instead, if you “do things uniquely with Game of Thrones for your mobile environment, where you have the ability to innovate faster … and if the fast innovation creates a unique experience in your environment, you’re probably going to want to make that available later to other providers as well.”

It’s possible to look at these statements as AT&T mulling something between traditional TV streaming and a service like Verizon’s Go90, which produced custom content tailored for mobile video. (Granted, Go90 was a bit of a disaster.) That said, Stephenson is only making vague suggestions. For Game of Thrones, we could be talking about cut-down “highlight reels,” episodes that have simply been split into more parts, or something else. But now that media companies are so close to mobile distribution channels, it’s worth at least thinking about what the future of TV on your phone might hold.

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