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.

Filed Under: at&t watch, competition, merger, promises, tv
Companies: at&t, time warner


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2020 @ 6:59am

    unofficial State Actor benefits

    Since our government has deals with large ISPs like At&t to provide immunity from legal action in return for access to their backbones, At&t only has to pretend to meet their obligations. We are their slaves as far as they care. We are just a harvestable commodity and we have no say in any punishment or penalties for not meeting their obligations. They can flout their breaking of merger obligations over and over and if we complain, we get in trouble, not them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    Code Monkey (profile), 29 Jun 2020 @ 7:12am

    Promises Unkept

    Is there no provision to reverse the merger, or make it null and void when the buying company fails to live up to the terms of the agreement?

    Especially this latest round of disingenuous claims??

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2020 @ 7:12am

    6 month into having cancelled my cable TV service and I still don't miss it one bit. That's around $1000 saved (really it would be more but I increased my download speed to gigabit). Funny how when companies have to compete for viewers and all the artificial sticking points that prevent people from signing up and cancelling services is removed causes things to be a lot cheaper.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2020 @ 7:15am

    Re: Promises Unkept

    Don't worry, in about 5 years AT&T will spin off Time Warner and take a huge charge. Will it be as big as the $50 billion+ charge AOL Time Warner took for it's merger? Only time will tell.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    kallethen, 29 Jun 2020 @ 7:29am

    Re: unofficial State Actor benefits

    Are they even pretending at this point?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2020 @ 7:31am

    Re:

    Yeah I don't get it either. Don't miss my cable service at all. The prices are crazy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2020 @ 7:39am

    Re: Re: Promises Unkept

    Yeah, you know, AT&T is kind of interesting, but there is a lot of other news.

    On Friday evening, hundreds of Black Lives Matter activists and Antifa insurgents gathered in Lincoln Park in Washington DC to attempt to topple the 144-year-old statue, which was fully funded by former slaves and black Union Army veterans to commemorate President Lincoln’s abolition of slavery.

    Also present at the demonstration were several counter-protestors, including an elderly black man who appeared to be a historical tour guide for Capital Buddy Tours, who beseeched the mob not to tear down the historical monument. The man was physically accosted several times by an Antifa member who attempted to prevent him from speaking.

    He was repeatedly shouted over by Antifa members, who yelled empty slogans like “No Justice, No Peace” without any care or understanding about the monument they planned to destroy. One female insurgent stated that the man was “not ready for the change” and that he was standing on the wrong side of history by preventing the monument’s destruction.

    I mean, don't you think those AntiFa guys pose more of a threat to every day Joey BagaDonuts of kind people than AT&T? Who really cares about small potatoes cable bills, when the country is being destroyed by Terrorists who don't have any care or understanding?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2020 @ 7:43am

    Re: Re: Re: Promises Unkept

    I think I'd agree with that.

    The United States of America is starting to resemble a Target in Minneapolis, overrun by lawless mobs and left for dead by the very leaders charged with upholding the rule of law.

    Today, we are witnessing the wealthiest, freest, and greatest country in the history of the world, which took more than 240 years to build, being burned to the ground at the hands of radical leftists motivated primarily by anarchy and a Marxist agenda, not racial justice. Compared to previous generations and their peers who sign up to defend America, these folks have contributed precious little to society. Yet, somehow, they have found a way to bend America to their will. How? Because most of our nation’s political class won’t stand up and lead.

    Let's hear it for every Proud American who is ready to Stand Up And Lead!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2020 @ 7:51am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Promises Unkept

    Man oh Man I am an American, but I wonder what's happened to America. Has it gone insane? Those protesters in Seattle, for example, they're all shooting each other, and police don't even come to look! Is that crazy or what? One man has died and another remains hospitalized in critical condition Monday following the latest shooting near Seattle's Capitol Hill Organized Protest, or CHOP.

    Two males suffering gunshot wounds arrived at Harborview Medical Center’s Emergency Department. The shooting victim who arrived at the hospital at 3:30 a.m. from the CHOP area on Capitol Hill in Seattle has unfortunately died, Susan Gregg, a hospital spokeswoman, told Fox News. He was transported to the hospital via Seattle Fire Department medics.

    The other male arrived at about 3:15 a.m. by private vehicle. He remains in critical condition in the intensive care unit.

    The world has gone crazy, it seems like. I mean, I don't like cable bills either, but everything is falling apart!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2020 @ 7:55am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Promises Unkept

    How's that Charles Harder defense fund coming along, bro?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    Jeremy Lyman (profile), 29 Jun 2020 @ 8:10am

    Free Market FTW

    Makes sense, I mean NONE of the packages have sports right now, that $15 option was just allowing people to not pay for what they're not getting. So of course it was eliminated.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    Bloof (profile), 29 Jun 2020 @ 8:13am

    Re: Re: Re: Promises Unkept

    "and then Donald Trump appeared and all the real Americans applauded and chased off all the Islamic marxist terrorist communist antifa supersoldiers who are the real racists and nazis. My girlfriend saw it, you wouldn't know her, she lives in Canada!'"

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2020 @ 8:18am

    Re: Re: Re: Promises Unkept

    No... Antifa (if it even exists, and isn't just projection by the right wing nut job's like you) can only impact limited individuals.

    How many individuals can one Antifa member at a protest interact with 10? 100? 1000 (not likely)?

    How many individuals does AT&T interact with... Hundreds of Millions across all their services... they are by far the biggest threat to our privacy and liberty. 1000x more than any group of 'fake right wing nut job antifa' could ever impact.

    So who would you rather hear about (besides your girlfriends mama's rumors)?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 29 Jun 2020 @ 8:33am

    Re: Free Market FTW

    They talk about it being a free market, but only for a handful of megacorps who often get to write the laws to make sure no one can challenge them.

    But then they got a Judge to rule that 1 provider was competition, so the entire system is quite insane.

    One of these times before they let Lucy hold the ball for us, we need to make them sign a contract with actual penalties if they yank the ball away at the last second.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    David, 29 Jun 2020 @ 8:42am

    A consequence of the Senate rubberstamping partisan judges

    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.

    Mitch McConnell has reduced the Senate work to rubberstamping the nomination of partisan judges. Democrats will not do much differently here once they are at bat again.

    The problem is that a competent and non-corrupt judge has no leeway to be partisan. Their work is cut out by the law.

    So the resulting deluge of incompetent and corrupt judges of whatever partisanship is paradise for the lobbying departments of corrupt large corporations.

    As long as the Americans do not get their political system under control, the price they pay for their broadband will be a multiple of the price other civilized countries pay, just like their Covid-19 death toll is a multiple of the price other civilized countries pay.

    Competence is not allowed where it would make a difference.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2020 @ 8:56am

    At this point the system is so corrupt that it wouldn't be surprising if political assasinations make an ugly comeback in the US. The filthy rich are so shamelessly running the score at this point while buying protectionism from our corrupt government officials that probably nothing else will have a measurable impact. Something is going to give and homelessness drives people to the extremes. Things are not looking good.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2020 @ 8:57am

    At this point the system is so corrupt that it wouldn't be surprising if political assasinations make an ugly comeback in the US. The filthy rich are so shamelessly running the score at this point while buying protectionism from our corrupt government officials that probably nothing else will have a measurable impact. Something is going to give and hopelessness drives people to the extremes. Things are not looking good.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Rocky, 29 Jun 2020 @ 9:18am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Promises Unkept

    Can't you see he is busy playing with his sock-puppets?!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. icon
    Thad (profile), 29 Jun 2020 @ 11:02am

    Re: A consequence of the Senate rubberstamping partisan judges

    Not sure what judicial nominations have to do with it, but I guess people who want to shout "Both sides!" are going to find some justification to do it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2020 @ 6:51pm

    Re: Re:

    It's interesting that you both focus on the money. I've found free cable isn't worth it either. Even if it didn't have ads, the idea of somebody else deciding when shows are on is so 1970s.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2020 @ 11:10pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Promises Unkept

    That's no excuse.

    In this amount of time, John Smith would have already used MyNameHere to impregnate horse with no name seven times over.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jun 2020 @ 2:16pm

    AT&T also deceptively offered a cheap $15 cell phone plan

    AT&T also deceptively promoted a $15/mo prepaid cell phone plan "to help ease financial stress during these difficult times."

    Changing cell phone carriers is of course often frustrating and time consuming.

    Yet, on June 1st, only 2 weeks after the sign-up period for this promo ended on May 13th, AT&T sent out a text saying their $15/mo plan was doubling to $30/mo!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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