DirecTV is the #1 satellite TV broadcaster in the US, and also has a footprint which stretches across much of Latin America. It has passed through the hands of several owners since its inception. The DirecTV service was originally launched in the 1990s by the satellite communications division of General Motors. In 2001 it became the the subject of a long, bruising, but apparently unsuccessful takeover bid by Rupert Murdoch. Yet after months of negotiations, GM agreed to sell the business not to Murdoch but to US rival EchoStar/Dish. That deal was subsequently blocked by regulators, allowing Murdoch to capture the business on the rebound. As a result, DirecTV became an effective 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. That deal was approved in July 2015. The DirecTV brand name is gradually being phased out in favour of AT&T corporate branding.
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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.
Adbrands Weekly Update 22nd Jul 2015: US regulators are set to approve AT&T's acquisition of DirecTV after a year of investigation. The FCC and US Justice Department both said they saw no risk to competition, though the FCC did say it will require ongoing independent oversight of some aspects of the merged group to ensure compliance. In particular, AT&T is prohibited from capping data speeds for any third-party streaming services accessed via its broadband network.
Adbrands Weekly Update 25th Sept 2014: Ads of the Week: "Creepy Rob Lowe". You have to admire Rob Lowe for repeatedly taking such liberties with his public image. If you thought that plasticated plastic surgeon in the Steven Soderbergh Liberace movie was bold, try the twin "delights" (ugh) of Creepy Rob Lowe and Less Attractive Rob Lowe in Grey New York's new twist on DirecTV's long-running cable-knocking campaign. Weird and funny. (Less Attractive Rob Lowe can be found over on our Facebook page).
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Free for all users | see full profile for current activities: DirecTV was originally the creation of Hughes Electronics, the business formed in 1985 from the merger of General Motors' substantial electronics division with Hughes Aircraft, the engineering empire built by Howard Hughes. Long before he became famous as America's most eccentric billionaire, Hughes was a brilliant but obsessive engineer. He was not yet even 20 when he inherited control of Hughes Tool Company after his father's death in 1924. Leaving the company's highly capable executive team to manage the company, Hughes turned his attention instead to the movie business. His main interest in the industry was the access it gave him to glamorous actresses, and he became a notorious ladies' man in Hollywood, although he also found time to produce a number of films, and later owned RKO Studios during the 1950s. He had also developed an obsession with flying and launched Hughes Aircraft in 1932 to design experimental racing planes. Later, Hughes himself acquired control of US passenger airline TWA. During WWII the company's fortunes boomed with a series of sizeable government contracts. However Hughes devoted his personal attention to the design of an enormous troop-carrying seaplane, nicknamed the Spruce Goose. It was a huge folly. Too big to be practical, the plane wasn't completed until two years after the war ended, and flew only once, for just one mile.
Although Hughes himself became increasingly eccentric in the years that followed, the company prospered, becoming a pioneer in the rapidly developing world of defence electronics, and later in space technology. During the 1950s, Hughes Aircraft was closely involved with the US secret services, and several senior executives were implicated in CIA plots, including plans to assassinate Fidel Castro. Hughes himself was a friend and financial backer to Richard Nixon. In 1960, the company developed the world's first working laser in 1960, launched the first modern satellite in 1963 (in time to relay live coverage of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics), and developed Surveyor, the first spacecraft to land successfully on the moon (in 1966). Hughes himself had less and less to do with the company, famously becoming a recluse for many years before his death in 1976. At that point Hughes Aircraft became the property of the Hughes Medical Institute, a private foundation, until its sale to General Motors nine years later.
GM was already heavily involved in aerospace projects. During World War II, the company's Delco Electronics division had won government contracts for weapons systems, and these culminated in the development of space guidance and navigational systems, including involvement in the Apollo space programme of the 1960s and 1970s. In 1985, GM acquired Hughes Aircraft for $5.2bn, and merged it with Delco to form GM Hughes Electronics. By the 1990s, the group was principally focused on commercial electronics, developing communications satellites, mobile phone networks and aerospace control systems. In 1990, a year after the launch of Sky Television in the UK, the group was part of a consortium that attempted to launch a US satellite broadcasting service. It failed as a result of the complex relationship between the partners, so in 1994, Hughes launched its own service, DirecTV. The group spun off its Electronic Data Systems subsidiary in 1996 (later EDS), followed by its defence division in 1997. Instead Hughes took control of satellite communications company PanAmSat in 1996, building a stake of 81% by 1998. In 1999, it added two further satellite broadcasters to its portfolio, buying United States Satellite Broadcasting and Primestar. The company also spread its wings internationally, with an ill-fated launch of a similar service for Japan. DirecTV Japan launched in 1998, but was merged with the larger, Murdoch-controlled SkyPerfecTV in 2000. (The combined service was later discontinued).
In early 2000, as communications became an ever more lucrative field, GM announced the sale of its satellite systems and manufacturing operations, including Hughes Space & Communications, to Boeing for $4bn. However the group retained the PanAmSat satellite services division and refocused operations towards high-growth entertainment, information and business communications. Also that year GM issued around 70% of Hughes as a tracking stock, although it retained full control of all assets, and a majority of voting rights. Towards the end of 2000, the group began talks with News Corporation to discuss the merger of DirecTV with News's projected Sky Global Networks business. These discussions stalled repeatedly during 2000, but were revived when Murdoch threatened negotiations with rival service EchoStar, the #2 satellite service. Peeved at being regarded as second-choice, EchoStar then turned the tables on Murdoch by opening their own negotiations to buy DirecTV with an offer then worth $29bn.
In May 2001 Michael Smith, Hughes' chairman & CEO, and the brother of GM chairman Jack Smith, resigned unexpectedly. Smith had been for some time an opponent of any deal with News Corp. It was thought at first that his resignation would greatly increase News Corp's chances of a successful bid. But the negotiations continued to drag on for several more months. By October 2001 it was looking more than likely that Murdoch's offer would win the support of the General Motors board, especially as EchoStar was struggling to piece together the funding necessary to back its own offer. GM promised to resolve the matter at its October board meeting. However in a surprise turnaround, during the course of the meeting, the board swung back in favour of EchoStar. Although it had promised a definitive answer to News Corporation, the GM board decided instead to postpone any decision to allow EchoStar more time to resolve its funding issues. Annoyed by this apparent betrayal, Rupert Murdoch withdrew his offer. The following day, GM agreed to sell Hughes to EchoStar for $25.8bn in stock and cash.
However the deal faced several hurdles. The combination of DirecTV with EchoStar's Dish service would have created a complete monopoly in areas not served by cable TV suppliers. In October 2002, after a year of deliberation, US regulators appeared to be on the verge of blocking the EchoStar deal. Hughes and EchoStar rushed to prepare significant concessions in a last-ditch effort to win approval, but were eventually forced to abandon their suit. This led to widespread speculation that News Corporation would end up the eventual owner of DirecTV. A new obstacle appeared in early 2003 when US telecoms company SBC Communications was also reported to be looking at the business. However it subsequently dropped plans to bid. In April, a triumphant Murdoch agreed to acquire GM's 20% holding, as well as a further 14% stake of publicly held shares in a deal worth $6.6bn.
Following takeover, Hughes Electronics was renamed The DirecTV Group. News Corp merged its existing Sky-branded businesses in Latin America with DirecTV's own subsidiaries there, and invested substantial sums in the US business, strengthening content and generating strong growth in subscriber levels. At the same time, the company's technical operations were divested. PanAmSat was sold in 2004 to private equity group Kohlberg Kravis Roberts for around $3bn, and was merged with rival IntelSat just over a year later. Hughes Network Systems (HNS), which had manufactured the company's set-top boxes and receiving equipment, was broken up and mostly sold off.
In 2006, speculation increased that a merger could be negotiated between DirecTV and its EchoStar rival. Rupert Murdoch confirmed that talks were possible, but said that negotiations would likely be very painful, centring on who exactly would run any merged business. Later Murdoch was said to be discussing the transfer of his DirecTV stake to Liberty Media, in return for the latter's shares in News Corporation. That deal was eventually agreed in December 2006 and completed in February 2008. See full profile for current activities
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