The shares were up more than 2% in a down market. Later in the day, the highly-indebted company announced the sale of its popular anime business Crunchyroll to Sony’s Funimation for close to $1.2 billion.
Two of the bids for DirecTV came from private equity firm Apollo Global Management and from Churchill Capital Corp, a SPAC, or special purpose acquisition vehicle, run by former media banker Michael Klein, the WSJ said. There are a glut of these so-called bank check firm looking for companies to acquire and take public. It said a deal could potentially close early next year.
A spokesperson for AT&T declined to comment, as did Apollo. A rep for Churchill wasn’t immediately available to comment.
AT&T, with about $149 billion in debt, much of it assumed in the Time Warner acquisition, has been shedding some non-core assets. Executives, including CEO John Stankey at a media conference yesterday — have promised to sell more. DirecTV like most of the traditional pay-TV universe, has been leaking subscribers but still brings in lots of cash.
In early November, AT&T completed the sale of its wireless and wireline operations in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to Liberty Latin America, taking in $1.95 billion. Several weeks earlier it saw a $1.1 billion cash injection as it officially unloaded its stake in Central European Media to Czech investment firm PPF Group. A DirecTV deal would make a major dent the debt, which the company has been aggressively refinancing and is a constant issue.
AT&T acquired Time Warner in 2018 for $85 billion. The marriage has proved rocky at times, including now, following WarnerMedia’s announcement last week that Warner Bros. entire 2021 film slate will debut on HBO Max day-and-date with cinemas domestically. Already struggling theaters as well as actors, directors, agents and others in the Hollywood ecosystem were shocked by the unexpected, blanket pronouncement. AT&T called the yearlong move temporary and pandemic related but made clear that it’s a push to drive subscriptions for its streaming service HBO Max.