AT&T promised a TV revolution — instead, we got a giant mess

Final week, AT&T introduced it will be spinning off its TV enterprise — together with DirecTV, AT&T TV, and U-verse — in a deal it claimed would vastly profit the corporate’s clients, staff, and shareholders. The deal offers AT&T with a $7.8 billion money infusion to pay down debt and up to date wi-fi spectrum purchases, and a 70 % stake within the “new” DirecTV. However it additionally values the complete operation at round $16.25 billion, a huge loss from the $67 billion AT&T paid simply a few years earlier for simply DirecTV alone.

“It’s honest to say that some elements of the transaction haven’t performed out as we had deliberate,” AT&T mentioned of the deal, making an attempt to place a good face on a greater than $50 billion loss, “resembling pay TV households within the US declining at a quicker tempo throughout the business than anticipated when we introduced the deal again in 2014.”

It’s the most recent chapter in AT&T’s lengthy journey to rework from a boring outdated telecom into a dominant participant in new media. Six years, 54,858 layoffs, two mergers, and almost $175 billion later, AT&T is just marginally nearer to streaming TV dominance. As a substitute, clients and staff are footing the invoice for his or her unhealthy selections within the type of TV fee hikes and layoffs that present no signal of slowing down.

“One of many worst acquisitions of all time”


Wall Road telecom analyst Craig Moffett surveyed the wreckage in a analysis be aware to buyers, wherein he famous the deal does little to deal with $157 billion in remaining AT&T debt.

“AT&T’s DirecTV is inarguably one of many worst acquisitions of all time,” Moffett mentioned. “They purchased it for $67 billion in 2013. Even on the overly-generous valuation reported final evening, they’re exiting at a worth 76% under what they paid for it simply seven years in the past.”

It wasn’t imagined to be this manner. AT&T executives as soon as dreamed of making a web-based video juggernaut that would rival the facility of Google and Fb within the internet marketing house, utilizing must-watch HBO content material — and AT&T’s wi-fi community — because the glue holding the hassle collectively. That dream fueled the DirecTV acquisition in 2014 (which executives promised would ship “enhanced innovation” and “vital advantages for shoppers”) in addition to the Time Warner acquisition in 2018 (which we were told would usher forth the “subsequent wave of innovation in converging media and communications”).

54,858 staff laid off since 2017

However for AT&T, a firm constructed on the again of the far much less aggressive and revolutionary US broadband sector, that dream proved arduous to appreciate. First, AT&T unveiled so many discordant TV manufacturers throughout each its conventional cable and streaming platforms, even the company’s own employees got confused. The corporate then tried to dig out from underneath its huge merger debt load by imposing repeated price increases on subscribers already drained from years of relentless fee hikes. A reduced $15-per-month streaming TV providing, used to lure regulators into approving the Time Warner merger, shortly disappeared as quickly because the merger ink had dried. AT&T’s clients, paying a mean of $130.55 per 30 days for tv, shortly revolted. As a consequence, AT&T has misplaced 8 million pay TV subscribers in simply the final 4 years.

However the casualties from AT&T’s merger go nicely past the monetary.

As streaming shifted from pesky upstart to the mainstream, youthful shoppers started viewing conventional satellite tv for pc tv as an antiquated relic of a bygone period. As a consequence, firms like Dish Community and DirecTV have been particularly hard hit by the cord-cutting revolution.

But, in 2017, firm executives made repeated tv appearances promising that if the Trump administration handed its tax aid plan, the corporate would reply with billions in funding and hundreds of “high-paying, really good jobs with great benefits.” Comparable guarantees have been made by each AT&T and unions forward of every merger.

After receiving an estimated $42 billion in tax cuts from the Trump administration, the corporate has as an alternative laid off an estimated 54,858 employees since 2017. AT&T imposed extra layoffs at Time Warner properties, including HBO and DC, and shuttered companies like DC’s widespread Vertigo label in a determined bid to chop prices.

“A sprawling assortment of companies battling well-funded opponents”

Elsewhere, AT&T remained underneath regular hearth for failing to improve its getting older DSL traces to fiber, a drawback significantly pronounced in marginalized neighborhoods. Consideration and sources that will have helped deal with the nation’s cussed digital divide have been as an alternative funneled into an aggressive proposal designed largely to appease shareholders, client teams say.

“[Former AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson] was getting a ton of stress to generate money stream to help the dividend, but in addition stress to extend the inventory worth,” S. Derek Turner, Analysis Director at client group Free Press, advised The Verge. “Shopping for DirecTV on credit score did that. The deal benefited whomever held AT&T’s inventory as a dividend supply. The purchasers and potential clients in AT&T service areas didn’t profit.”


However even some buyers grew indignant with AT&T’s “progress for progress’s sake” technique. Activist buyers at Elliott Administration penned a letter to AT&T in late 2019 complaining the corporate had spent almost $200 billion to change into “a sprawling assortment of companies battling well-funded opponents,” as an alternative of specializing in core competencies like wi-fi.

The top results of AT&T’s ambition wasn’t totally fruitless: HBO Max, the most recent in a lengthy line of tried streaming TV model refreshes, might nonetheless problem different rising streaming companies like Disney Plus or Comcast’s Peacock. However nevertheless profitable HBO Max winds up being, it’s a product that shouldn’t have value $200 billion and 55,000 jobs to create.

Mockingly, AT&T’s failure comes even supposing it spent the higher a part of a decade lobbying to tilt the regulatory enjoying area in its favor, culminating within the firm’s profitable 2017 assault on web neutrality and the Federal Communications Fee’s client safety authority. However even abusing broadband utilization caps to offer itself a tactical benefit over streaming opponents didn’t assist.

Finally, no sum of money or political energy might purchase the TV dominance the corporate’s executives envisioned. And as AT&T struggles to dump the mammoth debt load created by its ambition, staff and clients proceed to foot the invoice.

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