The year is off to a tough start for AT&T — now with a recent acquisition agreement for a spectrum-rich company on the rocks — execs acknowledged in a quarterly call with analysts.
The $1.25 billion stock deal for Straight Path Communications, announced this month, is up in the air because the company has received “a superior proposal,” AT&T CFO John Stephens said.
AT&T has five business days to decide whether it wants to up its offer. Straight Path is rich in the kinds of airwave spectrum rights needed to help offer speedy 5G wireless broadband communications.
Meanwhile, CEO Randall Stephenson vowed to “make some adjustments” with the marketing of DirecTV after a quarter in which “churn was up significantly” — especially among those who don’t buy it as part of a bundle.
He attributed the weakness to competition from streaming services, as well as as cable companies offering with their triple-play offers, combining video, Internet and voice services, he noted. “We continue to be big, big advocates of the integrated bundle.”
That also could help with the wireless phone business, which lost market share in Q1 as AT&T and Verizon scrambled to keep up with T-Mobile’s unlimited data offers.
“This has made an already competitive market even more so,” he said, adding that AT&T’s response “was probably a little slow.”
Stephenson said “we like what we see” about the DirecTV Now streaming service. The company cut marketing efforts recently. It will step that up in the second half of the year as DirecTV Now adds services and can offer local programming to additional cities where it has retransmission agreements with network affiliates.
The CEO adds that his $85 billion deal to buy Time Warner is “moving along as expected.”
The companies “don’t anticipate FCC review at all” now that Time Warner has sold an Atlanta-based TV station, its sole broadcast license that would clearly involve the regulatory agency.
Stephenson also said he believes AT&T’s data about its customers can enhance Time Warner’s ad sales.
For example, AT&T’s roughly $1.5 billion current ad sales business offers addressable ads that are “getting revenues per impression that are three and four [times] what you’d consider traditional revenue per impression in this industry. To what extent can we have the same impact on Time Warner and the Turner network advertising revenues, which are much more substantial?”
Stephenson urged the Trump administration to cut corporate taxes and lauded recent FCC efforts to free Internet and TV providers from rules designed to help consumers.
Lower taxes “is probably the biggest catalyst available for public policy makers if they want to increase capital investment and jobs creation,” he said.
If Trump can bring the rate down to 15%, then “we would stand up and cheer,” he said — even if it required an offsetting value added tax or border adjustment tax.
As for “the new tone at the FCC” under Chairman Ajit Pai, Stephenson said “it takes a decision point out of the investment philosophy. If you want to invest … you don’t have to stop, pause, how is this going to be regulated?” he said.
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