1. AT&T Inc.

Revenues 2018: $ 170.756 billion (€ 144.590 billion)

Overview

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It was a mega-merger, a "threat to American democracy" (Guardian). In 2018, AT&T, the world's most valuable telecom group, merged with TimeWarner, for a long time (from the end of the 1990s to 2010) the world's biggest classic media group. The new AT&T occupies by far the first place in the ranking of international media groups.

General Information

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Head office:
AT&T, Inc.
208 S. Akard St.
Dallas, TX 75202
USA
Telephone: 001 210 821 4105
Website: about.att.com/pages/company_profile

Branches of trade: Telecommunications, film and TV production, satellite television, free-TV/pay TV/cable and streaming broadcasters, advertising technology
Legal form:
corporation
Financial Year:
01.01-31.12
Founding year: 1885

Table I: Business performance (US$ bn)
2018**2017**2016*2015*
Revenue
170,76160,5551,335,29
Net Income
19,3729,8513,3313,69
Stock price (in US$, year end)30,3438,8842,5334,41
Employees
268.220254.000268.540281.450

 * Revenue AT&T Entertainment Group (DirecTV)
** Revenue AT&T including Time Warner

Executives and Directors

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Management:

  • Randall L. Stephenson, Chairman & CEO, AT&T
  • William A. Blase, Senior EVP – Human Resources, AT&T
  • John Donovan, CEO AT&T Communications
  • David S. Huntley, Senior EVP & Chief Compliance Officer, AT&T
  • Lori Lee, CEO AT&T Latin America & Global Marketing Officer, AT&T
  • Brian Lesser, CEO Xandr, AT&T Services
  • David R. McAtee II, Senior EVP and General Counsel, AT&T
  • John Stankey, CEO, WarnerMedia
  • John J. Stephens, Senior EVP and CFO, AT&T

 Board of Directors:

  • Randall L. Stephenson, AT&T
  • Matthew K. Rose, Burlington Northern Santa Fe
  • Samuel A. Di Piazza, PricewaterhouseCooper
  • Richard W. Fisher, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas
  • Scott T. Ford, Westrock Group
  • Glenn H. Hutchins, Silver Lake
  • William E. Kennard, The Carlyle Group
  • Michael B. McCallister, Humana Inc.
  • Beth E. Mooney, Key Corp.
  • Cynthia B. Taylor, Oil States International
  • Laura D'Andrea Tyson, Haas School of Business, University of California at Berkeley
  • Geoffrey Y. Yang, Redpoint Ventures
  • Cynthia B. Taylor, Oil States International, Inc.
  • Laura D'Andrea Tyson, Haas School of Business, University of California at Berkeley
  • Geoffrey Y. Yang, Redpoint Ventures

History

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It’s a big name. The original American Telephone and Telegraph Company was founded in 1885 by none other than Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922), a Scottish native and inventor of the telephone. Not long and AT&T ("Ma Bell") was able to establish a US and Canada-wide monopoly with the help of the so-called "Bell System" of telephone companies. Until 1984: After ten years of antitrust proceedings, the AT&T monopoly was dismantled and divided into seven regional telephone companies ("Baby Bells").

In 2006 AT&T was able to buy Bell South, which had been spun off more than 20 years earlier, and became the world's largest telecoms company again. In 2015, AT&T took over DirecTV, the leading US provider of satellite television. Now it is called "the premier integrated communications company in the world", the world's largest provider of pay TV.

It was the famous aviation pioneer and film producer Howard Hughes who developed satellite technology in the mid-1950s, initially as part of his aerospace group Hughes Aircraft. After Hughes' death in 1976, Hughes Aircraft was sold to General Motors. Under GM's control, the Direct Broadcast Satellites launched by Hughes Electronics in 1994 made a profit in 2003 and soon had a customer base of 12 million households paying over $50 a month for some 150 TV stations. In 2004, Hughes Electronics sold its remaining businesses and became DirecTV Group. In 2007, the penetration of DBS connections was already 25.2 percent of all households. In 2014, AT&T announced its intention to acquire DirecTV for $49 billion. The regulatory authority FCC approved the deal in July 2015 and AT&T Entertainment (the new name) became the largest pay TV provider in the USA with 26 million customers. Apart from competitor Dish (formerly Echostar), the satellite business has been dominated by DirecTV since the early 1990s.

One year later, the next coup. In October 2016, AT&T and TimeWarner, the sixth largest media group in the world at the time, agreed on a merger. It was not until June 2018 that the deal was waved through by the cartel and regulatory authorities. A look at the eventful history of the legendary film company now integrated into AT&T:

The studio of the Warner Brothers was founded in 1923 in Hollywood, a remote suburb of Los Angeles, where there wasn't much else but sunshine. As sons of Jewish immigrants from Poland, the four brothers Harry, Albert, Jack and Sam Warner were not granted a university education. Fascinated by the magic of the film world - at that time still in black and white and without sound - they rented cheap business premises on Sunset Boulevard to produce their first films. In 1927 they achieved their breakthrough with "The Jazz Singer", the first sound film in history. Jack Warner, however, had doubts: "Who wants to see films in which people speak?” The Warner brothers produced "The Jazz Singer" and should not regret it. With the profits they were able to buy a plot of land in Burbank north of Hollywood and run a real film studio there. The premises can still be seen in the opening credits of every Warner Brothers film to this day. Unlike Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Warner Brothers did not concentrate on glamorous monumental films, but on less risky productions (gangster films, love dramas). Although this brought fewer headlines, the bottom line was good business figures. There were also occasional surprise hits like "Casablanca" (1942) or "Der Exorzist" (1973). In the 1950s and 1960s Warner expanded its business to television film and record production.

In 1969, Steven Ross, CEO of Kinney National Service, bought Warner Brothers for $400 million. Jack, the last remaining Warner, retired for age reasons. He had already kicked his brothers out of the original family business at the end of the 1950s with some subtle tricks. Two years later, Warner Brothers was renamed Warner Communications and Ross ushered in a new era. In "The Master Switch," Tim Wu describes him as the "first copy of the new archetype of a great media mogul," a role model for dazzling characters such as Michael Eisner (Disney) and Barry Diller (Paramount). Under Steven Ross, the first media conglomerate in the 1980s included the film studio, the comic publisher DC Comics, Mad Magazine, video game developer Atari and the football team of Cosmos New York.

 Time Inc. was founded in 1922, a year earlier than Warner. Henry Luce and Briton Hadden, schoolmates and later fellow Yale students, had been toying with the idea of launching a weekly news magazine for some time. A revolutionary idea at the time. On March 3, 1923, the first edition of Time was released at kiosks - with enormous success. It wasn't long before other magazines followed: the photo illustrated Life, the business magazine Fortune, the gossip magazine People. After the Second World War, Time Inc. was not only the largest magazine publisher in the USA, but worldwide. A passionate (instead of sober) writing style was the journalistic concept. When publisher Luce was once criticized for the lack of objectivity of his papers, he said briefly: "We tell the truth the way we see it".

Warner and Time were brought together in 1989. From then on, the name TimeWarner stood for the largest media group in the world. The idea of such an "integrated media group" was to inspire many more mergers in the media sector in the following years. For TimeWarner CEO Gerald Levin it was not enough. In 1996, he bought the CNN Group from its founder Ted Turner for $8.5 billion. In 1979, Turner launched the first station in Atlanta to broadcast news around the clock. Initially laughed at as the "Chicken Noodle Network" because of the constant mistakes of its young correspondents, Turner's "Cable News Network" became a worldwide news authority in just a few years. The business model worked. The previously unprofitable genre of TV news first brought Turner and then TimeWarner substantial profits.

Levin wanted more. On January 10, 2000, he surprised the public with the announcement that he wanted to merge TimeWarner with the Internet provider AOL. The world's largest operator of classic "old" media together with the most successful player in digital "new" media. Almost intoxicated by Internet fever on the stock exchange, the world celebrated the merger as a milestone for the final transformation of the old into a new economy. The fact that AOL shareholders would hold 55 percent of the joint giant "AOL TimeWarner" according to the merger conditions, even though Time Warner with a turnover of 27.3 billion dollars was nine times larger than AOL (turnover: 3.1 billion dollars) and generated more than twice as much net profit (1.95 billion dollars compared to 762 million dollars) seemed justified at the time. According to the stock market valuation, the AOL owners had even been entitled to 70 percent.

One remembers: Not long until the Internet bubble burst, and with it the euphoria. AOL Time Warner got into a deep crisis. Levin resigned as CEO in June 2002 and AOL founder Steve Case had to resign as Chairman a year later. Richard "Dick" Parsons, a native of TimeWarner, who recalled the values of the old media world, became the new strong man in the group. He succeeded in restructuring the troubled group and getting it back on track for growth. In autumn 2003, he deleted the three letters "AOL" from the group name; TimeWarner was TimeWarner again. At the end of 2009, after eight years, TimeWarner spun off its Internet division AOL (now AOL is part of Verizon after years of independence).

TimeWarner also withdrew from the music, book and cable business. The Warner Music Group (WMG), one of the four major record companies worldwide, was sold in February 2004 to a group of investors led by Edgar Bronfman Jr.; in 2006, the TimeWarner Book Group was sold to the French Lagardère Group; in 2009, TimeWarner Cable was spun off. In 2013, a further restructuring finally took place: Time Inc., a magazine division rich in tradition and loss-making after years of mismanagement, was transferred to an independent company. Today, the group essentially consists of one of the major Hollywood studios, CNN and the pay-TV HBO (which played a major role in the reinvention of the series genre in the 1990s).

When the merger of AT&T/Warner became public, which after Comcast/NBCUniversal and Verizon/AOL was the third of telecommunications groups with media companies ("merger mania"), the critics were quickly on the scene. The whole thing was no less a danger to American democracy, crushed between corporate monopolies, a modern version of the trusts in the "Gilded Age" (heyday of the US economy at the end of the 19th century). So Zephyr Teachout, 2018 New York Times supported candidate for New York Attorney General on June 13, 2018 in the Guardian. Referring to the example of Facebook, i.e. the connection of Facebook with Russian influence on the US elections, to the fact that there are hardly any competitors (after the purchase of WhatApp and Instagram), Teachout pleads for stricter political control. Against a position of helplessness towards large corporations closely linked to politics through lobbying, to which one has already become accustomed.

The NGO freepress warned that a company like AT&T should not continue to grow because of its controversial recent history. By cooperating with the NSA secret service, AT&T is an integral part of the mass surveillance apparatus with regard to the release of user data, and prevents net neutrality and the fiber optic expansion of independent smaller companies. The merger means, quote freepress, "AT&T would control internet access for hundreds of millions of people and the content they view, enabling it to prioritize its own offerings and use sneaky tricks to undermine Net Neutrality".

Management

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In an interview with lecturer Robert Siegel at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Randall Stephenson, AT&T boss since May 2007, gave an insight into the challenges posed by the massive changes in the communications and media industries in January 2019. Stephenson, clearly one of the world's most powerful media managers, on managing big transitions (from fixed to mobile; from cable to mobile broadband; from traditional satellite and cable TV to over the top streaming): "You have to commit. This is where the customer is going, this is where the technology is going, you have to commit and go to it... We've been around a 140 years, we've managed through so many of these, I actually believe managing through these migrations is a core competency of ours." The new AT&T: "This ain't your grandparents' Ma Bell".

It also dealt with the difficulties and importance of preserving distinct corporate cultures within the framework of the new AT&T, the technical, operational excellence of the historic telephone group and the creative, boundary-pushing culture of WarnerMedia. And then to get to the heart of the matter: In the end it's all about "data", about being able to use more user data via viewing habits (what is in demand? When? On which terminal?) to place more targeted, for customers relevant, supposedly anonymous advertising on the company's own channels. After all, in the end it's all about selling more efficient advertising slots. One thing is clear: in the future, the business model will be based on Amazon, Google and Facebook, and the tech groups will be the new competitors. Google and Facebook have established a "de facto duopoly" on the market for online advertising, which can now be countered with the combined AT&T TimeWarner.

Conflicts between AT&T technicians (from Texas) and Warner creatives (New York, Hollywood) nevertheless arose after the merger. HBO boss Richard Plepler and chief revenue officer Simon Sutton had to leave February and March 2019 respectively. What has remained are the current top managers at WarnerMedia: John Stankey (born 1962), with AT&T since 2005. In 2015 he became CEO of AT&T Entertainment Group, responsible for the acquisition and integration of DirecTV and TimeWarner, and CEO of WarnerMedia since June 2018. Bob Greenblatt (born 1960), previously Head of Showtime and NBC Entertainment, has been CEO of WarnerMedia-Entertainment since March 2019. Jeff Zucker (born 1965), previously CEO of NBC and NBC Universal, has been president of CNN Worldwide since 2013, when he took over the News & Sports division following AT&T's reorganization in March 2019.

Business Units

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AT&T is divided into four "reportable segments".

1. AT&T Communications

The Communications segment under CEO John Donovan is in turn divided into AT&T Business ("global backbone network" for over three million business customers worldwide), Technology & Operations (research) and Mobility & Entertainment. These include the fast 4G and soon 5G mobile network with over 400 million subscribers in North America, currently over eight million fiber-optic Internet users and: Pay TV via satellite and streaming (DirecTV U.S. (El Segundo, CA)) or fiber optic (U-verse).

2. WarnerMedia (New York, NY)

WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey announces on 4.3.2019 a new "Organizational Model" of the old group and the new management team. From now on, the business will be divided into: WarnerMedia Entertainment (led by Bob Greenblatt) with HBO's Pay-TV, the linear cable channels TNT, TBS and truTV, as well as the direct-to-consumer business. WarnerMedia News & Sports (under Jeff Zucker) includes CNN Worldwide (CNN, CNN.com, CNN International, CNN en Español, HLN, Great Big Story), Turner Sports, Bleacher Report and the AT&T Regional Sports Networks. Finally, Kevin Tsujihara will lead Warner Bros. and thus the traditional film, TV and games business plus Turner Classic Movies and the new "Global Kids & Young Adults" division (Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, Boomerang).

3. AT&T Latin America (Coral Gables, FL)

The Latin America segment comprises 18.3 million mobile customers in Mexico and Vrio satellite pay-TV with 13.8 billion subscribers in Brazil, Argentina, Barbados, Chile, Colombia, Curaçao, Ecuador, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay and Venezuela. AT&T Latin America generated total revenues of $7.6 billion in 2018.

4. Xandr (New York, NY)

The Group's own subsidiary for the advertising technology business (formerly "AT&T Advertising & Analytics"), also for better assertion against Google and Facebook on the online advertising market.

Commitment in Europe

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HBO programmes are distributed in Europe via exclusive licences in markets such as the United Kingdom, Ireland and the German-speaking countries (via Sky Atlantic), the Netherlands (via the Ziggo cable network), France ('OCS'), Belgium ('BeTV') or Russia ('Amedia'). In addition, the HBO subsidiary "HBO Europe" has been operating pay TV channels in Eastern Europe since the early 1990s (i.e. long before the eastward expansion of the EU in 2004). In detail, the channels were first launched in Hungary (1991), then in the Czech Republic (1994), Poland (1996), Slovakia (1997), Romania (1998), Moldova (1999), Bulgaria (2002), Croatia and Slovenia (2004), then in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro (2006) and Macedonia (2009). In addition "HBO España" as standalone streaming service since 2016 and "HBO Nordic" for the Scandinavian countries. HBO Europe Original Programming Ltd. (London) is responsible for European in-house productions from Spain and Central and Eastern Europe.

Current Developments

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Laden with pathos, CEO Stephenson opens the Annual Report 2018 (published 8.2.2019): "Over the past decade, we have made significant investments and led our industry through a global revolution to enable everyone to use mobile internet. Today, we continue along this path to create value for you, our shareholders. At a time when technology, media and telecommunications are in the midst of another revolution, when customers want to access content in new ways. As a truly modern media company, AT&T is once again well positioned to lead this next revolution. With the acquisition of WarnerMedia, we have brought together the best film content, a broad base of direct-to-consumer relationships, fast networks and the latest advertising technology".

It goes without saying that this didn’t happen for free. In this respect, the annual report shows an almost adventurous total debt of $176.5 billion. For comparison: Charter Communications reported a debt level of $72 billion in 2018, Disney of about $21 billion (end of September 2018), Bertelsmann €15.5 billion (total short- and long-term debt). In April 2018, it was reported worldwide that a first debt relief measure had failed: "AT&T has suspended the planned IPO of Vrio, its DirecTV business in Latin America, a few hours before the start of trading... based on the current market conditions... Cable TV operators are facing fierce competition as the industry struggles with customers terminating their accounts and switching to video streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. AT&T's original plan was to sell Vrio to pay off debts arising from the acquisition of TimeWarner."

On 9 April 2019, the Financial Times said that Dallas would "discuss internally" the sale of HBO Europe to reduce debt. HBO Europe is a Pay TV and VOD offer based on HBO programmes in 13 Eastern European countries and as VOD-only in Spain, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Portugal. However, WarnerMedia’s John Stankey vehemently contradicted the sales plans: “There is no truth whatsoever to the Financial Times' story saying AT&T is or has considered selling HBO Europe. It's completely baseless and inaccurate. HBO Europe is a valuable asset for our growth plans in Europe." The FT also said that AT&T wanted to stop further press reports on the subject in order to prevent other HBO executives from leaving the ship after Plepler and Sutton.

Further reading

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  • Steve Coll: The Deal of the Century: The Breakup of AT&T. New York: Open Road (2017)
  • David Thomson: Warner Bros: The Making of an American Movie Studio. Yale University Press (2017)