DirecTV is the #1 satellite TV broadcaster in the US, and also has a footprint stretching across much of Latin America. The business passed through the hands of several owners before becoming a subsidiary of AT&T in 2015. In fact, it was originally launched in the 1990s by what was then the satellite communications division of General Motors. In 2001 it became the the subject of a long and bruising takeover bid by Rupert Murdoch. Despite months of negotiations with Murdoch's News Corp, GM agreed to sell the business to US rival EchoStar/Dish instead. That deal, though, was later blocked by regulators, allowing Murdoch to capture the business on the rebound. DirecTV then became a subsidiary of News Corporation's Fox Entertainment Group. As competition from cable broadcasters became increasingly intense mid-decade, Murdoch began moves to sell the business. Control was assumed in 2008 by cable group Liberty Media, but this stake too was largely divested during 2010 leaving the business effectively independent. Finally in 2014, AT&T agreed to buy the business for almost $50bn. DirecTV became AT&T's main direct-to-consumer broadcast service, taking over from wireline-based U-verse. It is the largest satellite broadcaster in the US, and the second largest pay-TV service overall (behind Comcast). It has an extensive entertainment offering as well as several exclusive benefits of its own, including the NFL Sunday Ticket telecast. Unlike US cable providers, who are limited to a regional footprint, DirecTV has virtually blanket national coverage of the US. Nevertheless it has suffered the same competitive challenge as cable from "over the top" streaming services. At the end of 2016, the group unveiled its own such service under the banner of DirecTV Now, later rebranded as AT&T TV Now. This had attracted 1.2m customers by the end of 2017, but has fallen back sharply since then to just 656k by the end of 2020. US satellite subscribers peaked at over 21m in 2016 before slipping back to 17.2m by the end of 2020. Following AT&T's purchase of Time Warner and the launch of a second streaming service, HBO Max, there have been repeated rumours that the group is considering the sale of all or part of DirecTV to concentrate on content creation and OTT services. DirecTV serves a further 11m satellite subscribers across Latin America via what is now branded as Vrio (formerly DirecTV PanAmericana and Sky Brasil). The group doesn't break out revenues specifically for satellite broadcasting, but video entertainment contributed $28.6bn in 2020 in the US and $3.2bn in Latin America. However, DirecTV's struggles were sufficient to warrant a whopping $15.5bn against that business at the end of 2020, enough to push the group as a whole onto an annual net loss.
Capsule checked 16th October 2020
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Who are the competitors of DirecTV? DirecTV's principal competitors are rival satellite television services Dish Network and Voom, traditional cable TV operators including Comcast, Spectrum and Cox, telecoms giant Verizon's FiOS service and online providers such as Netflix and Amazon. See Media Sector for other companies
Historical profile information for DirecTV
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.
Adbrands Daily Update 19th Sep 2019: In a surprise turnaround, AT&T is considering a disposal of its DirecTV satellite business, according to the WSJ. That follows comparatively weak performance by that unit over the past couple of years as a result of intense competition from alternative providers, as well as increasingly vocal calls for restructuring from activist investor Elliott Management. Options under consideration include spin-off as a separate company or even a merger of DirecTV with rival Dish Network, though the latter route would come under intense scrutiny from regulators. Alternatively, AT&T may also decide to keep its satellite business, which is a steady contributor to cash flow.
Adbrands Weekly Update 21st Sep 2017: Ads of the Week "What Taylor's Up To Now". Taylor Swift may have her detractors but you can't deny that she has plenty of nerve. Topping even her treadmill gag for Apple, she graces AT&T's DirecTV service with this really entertaining extended promo for her dedicated streaming channel, courtesy of BBDO New York. It's hard to imagine any of her peers being willing to deliver such a goofy, self-mocking performance. We look forward to seeing Beyonce eating cereal off her own sweater or performing a thumb war with, say, Kevin Hart. And how great to hear the silky tones once more of the old DirecTV "Consequences" guy.
Adbrands Weekly Update 24th Nov 2016: The addressable TV deal flagged up by Sir Martin Sorrell at WPP's 3Q results conference has finally materialised. The British marketing group has teamed up with AT&T's DirecTV and rival satellite broadcaster Dish to acquire Invidi Technologies, the developer of a system that allows advertisers to target different ads to different audiences during the same commercial break, based on demographic data or customer habits. AT&T will have a controlling interest but the business will operate independently under the three companies' collective ownership.
Adbrands Weekly Update 3rd Mar 2016: To strengthen its appeal to "cord cutters" who don't want expensive cable TV contracts, AT&T will start cutting links of its own between the DirecTV brand and its traditional satellite delivery system. Later this year it will launch a fixed or mobile broadband service similar to those already offered by its European counterpart Sky. Details have yet to be confirmed but are likely to involve three packages: "full fat" offering most of the same content as the satellite service; "mobile first" with selected content optimised for mobile viewing; and a preview service for all devices funded by advertising. As a result of its purchase of DirecTV, AT&T is now the world leader in pay-TV, with more than 45m subscribers in the Americas.
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