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AT&T is one of America's dominant telecoms giants, the #1 by revenues, but still stuck in second place by retail mobile customers. In its current form, AT&T re-combines several of the previously separate businesses which were formed from the break-up of the old Bell telephone system in the early 1980s. The key development was the acquisition in 2005 of what was left of the "old" AT&T by regional operator SBC, and the subsequent purchase of the SBC's wireless partner BellSouth. The merged group adopted the storied AT&T name, as well as an updated version of its old corporate logo. It was a welcome reinvention of a once-mighty brand which had up until that point suffered a dramatic decline in its fortunes. Mirroring the fixed line business, SBC and Bell South's wireless service Cingular in turn reinvented itself as a new version of the old AT&T Wireless company which it had swallowed a year earlier. In 2011, in an attempt to leapfrog main rival Verizon, AT&T also announced plans to acquire smaller competitor T-Mobile USA for $39bn. However, the Justice Department and FCC issued legal challenges to that deal on competition grounds, forcing the group to abandon its plan at the end of the year. AT&T did, however, manage to acquire much smaller Leap Wireless. In 2014, the group set about boosting its fledgling TV service with the acquisition of satellite broadcaster DirecTV for $49bn. That deal was finally completed a year later. Just over a year after that, AT&T was back on the acquisition trail, with agreement to acquire media giant Time Warner for $85bn. The US government launched an ill-conceived lawsuit to block the deal, but the judge found in the companies' favour and the merger went ahead as planned in summer 2018. The resulting group became a mammoth force in both communications and content, primarily in the US, but also in Latin America, and globally via its Warner division. However, a change in leader in 2020 - John Stankey replaced long-serving Randall Stephenson as CEO - prompted an abrupt about-turn in strategy. Over the course of 2021, almost all of those expensively acquired assets were offloaded in part or whole. DirecTV was spun off as a separate company, though AT&T retains for now a majority stake. Then, AT&T sealed a deal to demerge the entire WarnerMedia business into smaller rival Discovery in a new publicly quoted company. The group's Latin American satellite broadcaster Vrio and digital advertising platform Xander were also both sold. After peaking at $181bn in 2019, revenues slipped down to $168.9bn for 2021. Net income was $21.5bn. By the end of 2020, AT&T served almost 202m wireless connections in the US, including resellers and connected devices. Only around 100.5m were under the main AT&T wireless banner; another 95m were for connected devices such as automobile systems, monitoring and home security devices and the like. There were 15.5m broadband connections.
Capsule checked 19th March 2021
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Who competes with AT&T? AT&T's main overall competitor is Verizon. Those twin giants now face a heightened challenge from a merged T-Mobile/Sprint. See Telecoms Index for other companies
Historical profile information for AT&T
Adbrands Daily Update 22nd Dec 2021: In yet another disposal, AT&T agreed to sell its ad tech platform Xander to Microsoft. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but almost certainly represent a sizeable loss for AT&T which acquired the business - then known as AppNexus - in 2018 for around $1.6bn.
Adbrands Daily Update 22nd Jul 2021: In a further narrowing of its focus, AT&T agreed to sell the Vrio satellite broadcast network in Latin America to Grupo Wertheim of Argentina. The business was acquired as part of DirecTV and has around 10m subscribers in Argentina, Chile, Colombia and other countries, as well as Brazil where it operates as Sky Brasil. Sale price is around $500m to be paid over five years, resulting in a $4.6bn write-off for AT&T.
Adbrands Daily Update 20th Jul 2021: Dish announced plans to change network partner for its various prepaid mobile services. Mostly acquired from T-Mobile in 2019, they had retained that network as their network provider. However that relationship has grown increasingly fractious. Dish will now transfer to AT&T instead in a deal reported to be worth at least $5bn over ten years. The arrangement also provides AT&T access to Dish's wireless spectrum.
Adbrands Daily Update 17th May 2021: It didn't take long for AT&T to regret its high-priced push into media. Following on from the partial demerger of DirecTV, the group has now confirmed plans to spin out all its other WarnerMedia operations - including HBO, CNN and other cable strands as well as the Warner Bros production business - and combine them with smaller rival Discovery to create a new publicly quoted company, as yet unnamed. The enlarged entity - which will have pro forma sales of around $52bn - will be led by Discovery CEO David Zaslav. AT&T shareholders would end up with around 71% of equity in the new company, while Discovery shareholders would have 29%. The main focus of the business will be its twin streaming services of HBO Max and Discovery+. The two groups said their combined content creation budget of $20bn annually would exceed that of rival Netflix. However, perhaps the most significant aspect of AT&T's dramatic about-face is the huge cost in wasted shareholder funds. It acquired Time Warner just three years ago for more than $80bn and spent millions more on lawyers' fees defending the takeover against the strong objections of the Trump administration. The demerger will net AT&T just $43bn for the business.
Adbrands Daily Update 26th Feb 2021: In a development that has seemed increasingly likely over the past two years, AT&T announced plans to spin off US satellite broadcaster DirecTV as a separate entity. It's not as radical a separation as some might have envisaged: AT&T will retain a 70% stake in the new company, which will continue to carry the DirecTV name. Private equity firm TPG is acquiring the other 30% in a deal which values the business at $16.25bn. Bill Morrow, current head of US video services, becomes CEO of the new entity. AT&T retains full ownership of its HBO Max streaming service as well as pay-TV operations in Latin America, operating as Vrio and Sky Mexico.
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