This wasn’t how it was supposed to go for AT&T. In AT&T executives heads, the 2015, $67 billion acquisition of DirecTV and the 2018 $86 billion acquisition of Time Warner were supposed to be the cornerstones of the company’s efforts to dominate video and online video advertising. Instead, the megadeals made AT&T possibly one of the most heavily indebted companies in the world. To recoup that debt, AT&T has increased its efforts to nickel-and-dime users at every opportunity, recently imposing the second rate hike in just a year on its streaming TV subscribers.
Not too surprisingly, these price hikes are now driving subscribers to the exits.
AT&T’s latest earnings report indicates that the company lost another 1.16 million video subscribers from its traditional DirecTV and IPTV TV services. The company also lost another 195,000 subscribers from its streaming TV platform, creatively dubbed AT&T TV. All told, AT&T lost another 1.36 million TV subscribers in a single quarter; again not the kind of domination AT&T expected when it decided to merge its way to sector dominance.
Like Verizon, AT&T got bored with simply running quality networks and lobbying to crush competition; both have eyed Google and Facebook ad revenues as they push harder into the video advertising space. But competition there has not been easy going for either government-pampered monopoly, Verizon’s own fusion of Yahoo and AOL doing repeated face plants, mostly notably the failure of its Go90 Millennial-focused streaming platform. And while AT&T’s had better luck making streaming TV and advertising inroads, these numbers clearly indicate slow sledding.
Even AT&T investors have started to grow impatient with AT&T’s obsession with growth for growth’s sake. After a bit of an investor revolt, AT&T had to promise it would make no major mergers or acquisitions in the next three years.
AT&T, meanwhile, has been busy trying to hype its upcoming HBO Max streaming service, the latest in an AT&T TV streaming branding effort that’s so convoluted, it has confused the company’s own employees. Undaunted by recent issues, AT&T’s telling anybody who’ll listen that the service should grab somewhere around 50 million subscribers by 2025:
“This is going to be a meaningful business for us over the next four or five years and we’re talking a 50 million subscriber business and we’re really enthusiastic about this,” AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said during an analyst call. The AT&T boss clarified his domestic forecast of 50 million subscribers was for five years to 2025.”
The problem, for AT&T, is that it’s already proven incapable of retaining or adding subscribers in the current market. With Apple and Disney poised to join the crowded field in November, the battle for streaming domination is only going to get harder for ma bell.
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