AT&T, which is trying to chip away at its large debt load and manage through a period of secular decline in its traditional pay TV businesses, has set a round of price hikes at DirecTV and U-verse. Beginning Jan. 19, 2020, some customers of the satellite and cable outlets will see their monthly packages rise by $1 to $8 a month depending on the tier.
AT&T reached a renewal of its retransmission agreement with Nashville License Holdings, which owns the CW affiliate in Nashville, lifting a six-month blackout and ending a dispute that affected a dozen stations that operate under shared service agreements with Sinclair Broadcast Group.
AT&T’s stock ended its steady march higher Tuesday, dropping nearly 3% after respected Wall Street analyst Craig Moffett downgraded the telecom and media giant’s shares and called its pay-TV unit a “cancer.”
Station owner Howard Stirks Holdings has settled its retrans dispute with AT&T and replaced its negotiating agent. The stations at issue, WEYI Flint-Saginaw, Mich., and WWMB Myrtle Beach-Florence, S.C., had been off DirecTV since June.
The FCC today ordered nine TV station groups linked to Sinclair Broadcast Group to return to the negotiating table with AT&T’s DirectTV after some consumers have been without access to 20 stations for five months.
The company has said HBO Max will become the “workhorse” for its video business as cord-cutting of traditional TV expands. It hopes to migrate people who pay for HBO in different ways today to the new platform. The service grew out of AT&T’s $81 billion purchase of Time Warner, which AT&T overhauled and rechristened WarnerMedia.
The company is looking for assets it can sell off to pay down its Time Warner acquisition, while CEO Randall Stephenson will stay on through 2020.
Notices are going out this week telling about 1.3 million customers of AT&T Inc. that prices are rising as much as 30% starting next month. Subscribers who were paying $50 a month for the “Plus” package will see prices climb to $65, while those paying $70 for the 65-channel “Max” package will be charged $80 a month. It’s the second price hike this year and highlights what has been AT&T’s top priority — to widen margins and reduce a debt load that ballooned to as much as $195 billion after the acquisitions of DirecTV and TimeWarner.
The new carriage contract covers Sinclairs O&Os plus the Tennis Channel, Marquee Sports Network, 21 regional sports networks and the YES Network.
AT&T and Northwest Broadcasting say they’ve ended their nearly eight-month old carriage fight, which means 20 Northwest-owned stations in 10 markets can now return to the AT&T-owned DirecTV, U-verse and AT&T TV Now.
Sinclair stations remained on AT&T’s U-Verse and DirecTV distribution platforms past the 5 p.m. Friday, Sept. 27, deadline. A source said Sinclair, which ultimately controls the signals, had provided the extension. It was not clear for how long.
As a blackout looms with the current retransmission consent impasse between Sinclair and AT&T — Sinclair is warning DirecTV and U-Verse customers the stations (136 stations in 86 markets) could be off those AT&T-owned MVPDs by Sept. 27 — AT&T is framing the impasse for legislators concerned about their constituent/viewers as a still-ongoing negotiation with AT&T, not surprisingly, “on the side of the customer.”
The Wall Street Journal is reporting that AT&T COO John Stankey, in defending the company’s strategy in the media business, says it doesn’t plan to sell its DirecTV unit, viewing the satellite TV provider as central to its ambitions in streaming video. “DirecTV is an important part of what we’re going to be doing going forward.” Last week, the Journal reported that AT&T was looking to unload the unit in the face of declining subscribership.
The Walt Disney Co. reached an agreement in principle Friday evening on a new retransmission consent and carriage deal with AT&T that would keep networks including ABC, ESPN and the Disney Channel glowing in homes with DirecTV, U-verse and AT&T TV Now. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Sinclair Broadcast Group is warning that millions of subscribers to AT&T’s pay TV services could be blacked out on Sept. 27 unless a new carriage agreement is reached. Sinclair said its agreement with AT&T was set to expire in August and that it gave AT&T a five-week extension.
AT&T, which paid $49 billion to acquire DirecTV in 2015, has faced increasing pressure from investors to get the satellite distributor on a more promising path. This week, the notion that the companies could part ways has gained currency.
A class action suit has been filed alleging that AT&T pumped up the sub count for its DirecTV Now streaming service (since rebranded to AT&T TV Now) to mask “serious technical problems due to premature roll-out.”
The association’s CEO Gordon Smith says: “DirecTV is doing a serious disservice to both its customers and to Congress by running these misleading messages. We urge you to reconsider … and to work with local broadcasters to ensure that all DirecTV customers receive their network programming from local TV affiliates.”
After lengthy blackouts of CBS and Nexstar stations, plus the impact of price increases, AT&T expects to lose about 300,000 to 350,000 subscribers in the quarter, CFO John Stephens said Wednesday.
Ellliott Management, a top activist shareholder firm, disclosed Monday that it has taken a $3.2 billion stake in AT&T. In a letter to AT&T’s board, Elliott Management partner Jesse Cohn and associate portfolio manager Marc Steinberg wrote that AT&T’s stock could potentially surge to above $60 a share by 2021 if the company “increased strategic focus, improved operational efficiency” and “enhanced leadership and oversight.” That would be a more-than 65% increase from Friday’s closing price of $36.25.
Overseeing various units, he will report to AT&T chair and CEO Randall Stephenson, who says: “Now is the time to more tightly align our collection of world-class content, scaled consumer relationships, technical know-how and innovative advertising technology.”
AT&T and Lionsgate-owned Starz have reached a new multi-year carriage deal, avoiding a disruption of the premium network’s offerings on AT&T’s DirecTV, AT&T TV and U-verse cable platforms. The agreement encompasses Starz and Starz Encore linear and HD channels, on-demand and online services.
The multi-year deal, which covers DirecTV, AT&T TV and U-verse, ends a nearly two-month impasse. Terms were not disclosed.
CBS Corp. and AT&T renewed their contract on Thursday, ending a 20 day-long blackout that began when the companies’ previous, seven-year deal expired at 2:00 a.m. ET on July 19.
How does Locast think it can get away with retransmitting broadcast signals to smartphones and smart TVs without compensating broadcasters? By claiming to be a nonprofit. But I expect that a federal judge will see through that fiction and find that it is nothing more than a front for Dish and AT&T’s DirecTV.
Later this summer, AT&T will retire the name of the over-the-top TV service, first launched in December 2016, which will be rebranded “AT&T TV Now.” The change comes as the telco plans to launch test pilots in select markets of a new internet-streaming TV service called AT&T TV. Both the AT&T TV and AT&T TV Now services will be accessed through the same AT&T TV app on either mobile devices or connected TVs.
As expected, the ongoing impasse between CBS and AT&T is wreaking havoc on WBBM’s already low ratings. The blackout of CBS 2 on DirecTV, DirecTV Now and U-verse cable systems appears to have cost the CBS-owned station more than a quarter of its viewership.
The network reported a “dramatic spike in new subscribers” to its CBS All Access streaming service last weekend, compared with the same weekend in 2018. It didn’t say it was due to the retrans impasse that has blackout out CBS stations on AT&T’s DirecTV, DirecTV Now and U-Verse, but strongly implied it was in a press release. The release also contains other CBS talking points, including that AT&T has dropped 178 stations in 120 markets in 2019 because of its retrans recalcitrance.
AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, speaking to securities analysts today, said the planned HBO OTT streaming service would “ultimately” be a full-service TV network with live news and sports. “Those are going to be really, really important elements for HBO Max.” The service is set to launch next spring.
On an earnings call today, Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson suggested the two companies are not that far apart on terms that would make CBS stations available again for approximately 6.6 million subscribers to the company’s DirecTV or U-verse services. “The bid-ask candidly is not that wide, but it’s kind of an interesting dynamic,” he said. “We sent…[what] was a reasonable, fair offer over five days ago, and that’s been crickets. We haven’t heard anything.”
The company, which is engaged in retrans war with broadcasters, posted a net loss of 778,000 “premium video” subscribers, most of whom subscribe to DirecTV, and shed 168,000 streaming DirecTV Now accounts. Chief Executive Randall Stephenson earlier this year told investors the company expects to keep losing pay-TV customers through 2019 as it cut backs on promotions.
Unable to reach on agreement with CBS on programming fees, AT&T early Saturday morning dropped CBS’s broadcast and cable programming from its TV distribution services — DirecTV, DirecTV Now and U-Verse, according to CBS. “While CBS has made every effort to avoid this blackout, we won’t agree to terms that undervalue our hit programming enjoyed by nearly 240 million viewers across all dayparts last season,” the network said.
Amid AT&T’s carriage battle with CBS stations, the telecom accused CBS of trying to up-sell pay TV subs to its own All Access service. The current contract between AT&T-owned DirecTV and CBS stations in 14 markets expires at midnight Friday.
Executives from AT&T and Nexstar Media Group met over the weekend, but the nearly two-week long blackout of about 120 stations continues. The talks continue but there has been no agreement yet, according to an AT&T spokesperson. Negotiations will continue this week, a Nexstar spokesman added.
AT&T has sued Max Retrans, a consultant that works with TV stations negotiating with distributors, claiming it used confidential data to get higher fees for its clients. In U.S. Court in St. Louis, AT&T said it is seeking an unspecified amount of damages, including inflated retransmission consent fees, punitive damages, attorney’s fees and court costs.
The broadcaster says AT&T/DirecTV’s actions contrast sharply with its public commentary and cites eight broadcast groups currently without carriage resulting in a loss of service to consumers in 13 U.S. markets.
In a shakeup of what was once Turner’s ad sales division, former Turner International head Gerhard Zeiler has been named interim president of the ad sales operation at AT&T’s WarnerMedia unit.
Legislators continued to turn up the heat in the ongoing retransmission consent battle between DirecTV and Nexstar Media Group, with representatives from seven states joining Sen. Richard Blumenthal on Tuesday in sending letters to DirecTV parent AT&T urging for an end to the blackout as it entered its fifth day.