AT&T Ditches $15 TV Service It Used As Regulator Bait To Seal Time Warner Merger
from the history repeats itself dept
You may be shocked to learn this, but nearly all of the promises AT&T made in the lead up to its $86 billion merger with Time Warner wound up not being true.
The company’s promise that the deal wouldn’t result in price hikes for consumers? False. The company’s promise the deal wouldn’t result in higher prices for competitors needing access to essential AT&T content like HBO? False. AT&T’s promise they wouldn’t hide Time Warner content behind exclusivity paywalls? False. The idea that the merger would somehow create more jobs at the company? False.
Last week, yet another AT&T promise disappeared without much fanfare or notice. Ahead of the Time Warner merger, AT&T promised regulators the deal would directly culminate in the release of a cheaper, $15 per month TV service dubbed AT&T Watch. This $15 service was highly promoted not only in AT&T filings, but during its court defense of the merger by the CEO himself:
“Watch” will be different because it will not include any sports channels. This will enable AT&T to sell it for $15 a month, compared to $35 a month for DirecTV Now. Stephenson brought it up on the stand in the context of AT&T’s streaming businesses. He testified that AT&T does not want to stop innovation in streaming services and brought up the new skinny bundle.
But with the deal approved, it didn’t take long for AT&T’s discount offering to disappear. By last fall, AT&T had begun backpedaling on the offer, and last week announced it would be discontinuing the offer entirely. Only a handful of reporters in the space (like Jared Newman) correctly called the promotion out as bullshit from the start:
“The whole thing was an obvious PR ploy from the start, and now with the acquisition fading into the rear view, there’s little reason to keep the service going any longer. The company never got around to adding Roku support for Watch TV, and it stopped giving the service away with unlimited data plans last October. Those who want to get a streaming TV service from AT&T can turn to one of its broader and more expensive packages instead—with prices starting at $55 per month.
Irony being that due to incompetence, AT&T’s grand merger ambitions (or its lobbying assault on net neutrality) didn’t even actually help it dominate the TV space, at least not yet. The mergers saddled AT&T with so much debt, the company immediately turned around and imposed rate hikes. Those hikes, in turn, drove TV customers to the exits by the millions, since the whole point of “cutting the cord” is to get away from ridiculously bloated cable TV bills. It’s part of the reason that AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson is now an ex-CEO, somewhere napping on a giant pile of money.
In short, much like the $42 billion tax cut AT&T nabbed from the Trump administration (that resulted in 41,000 layoffs), AT&T made a long list of promises that wound up being completely hollow. This was all laid out to US District Judge Richard Leon during the merger trial, yet Leon still ignored all of the warnings and rubber stamped the deal without a single condition. At absolutely no point did Leon in his absurd ruling recognize the threat of AT&T owning both a monopoly over broadband and a massive media empire in charge of content needed by competitors (who also were quickly subjected to price hikes).
All of this was obvious to anybody that has paid attention to the fact that AT&T has a thirty year history of making all manner of promises in exchange for deregulation, tax cuts, regulatory favors, and merger approvals that almost universally wind up being complete bullshit. But like the last dozen or so times we’ve been through this, absolutely nobody on any level of government will try to hold AT&T accountable, lest they put campaign contributions in jeopardy.