After 100 Years As A Bullying Gatekeeper, AT&T Pivots To Whining Unironically About Bullying Gatekeepers

from the comes-around-goes-around dept

For decades, incumbent broadband and television giants like Comcast and AT&T enjoyed life from a comfortable position of monopoly dominance. If you want to subscribe to broadband, such companies are often your only option. If you wanted to subscribe to television service, you were required to rent a locked down, highly proprietary cable box courtesy of the industry's cable hardware monopoly. Are you a broadcaster and want to have your cable channel in a conspicuous position in the lineup? Expect headaches. Want to use their utility poles to build a decent competitor? Expect a lot of bullshit.

Natural monopolies are a pain in the ass. Telecom monopolies like AT&T, whose domination spans the better part of a century, are a very particular type of pain in the ass. But with cord cutting and the rise of streaming changing at least part of their business equations, it's interesting to watch how these giants of yesterday are now struggling to adapt to a new era in which they not only no longer dominate, but often have to collaborate.

Case in point. Before its 2015 merger with DirecTV and 2018 merger with Time Warner, AT&T -- a company with a thirty year track record of obvious, documented, monopolistic behavior -- told anybody who'd listen that there was simply no way that the company would use the greater scale from its merger ambitions to behave badly.

While U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon bought into that nonsense, AT&T quickly set about proving to everybody that critics were right to worry. It set about abusing its broadband monopoly to thwart streaming competitors, drove up TV prices on consumers and competitors alike, and began withholding HBO content from competitors. All things it swore to the courts it wouldn't do, and all while its lobbyists set about dismantling consumer protections (like net neutrality rules) designed specifically to thwart this kind of behavior.

As AT&T attempts (poorly) to pivot toward the cord cutting generation, the company is suddenly finding itself in an alien predicament: it has to innovate, collaborate, and compete. But with companies like Roku and Amazon now dominating the streaming hardware space, AT&T's been having a hard time bullying them into carrying its streaming platform. In turn, AT&T has gotten a bit pouty as it tries to explain why, despite all this bullying, posturing, bullshit, and market domination, it still managed to lose nearly 1 million TV subscribers last quarter and nearly four million subscribers in just the last few years:

"AT&T’s chief executive, John Stankey, had some harsh words for Amazon on the earnings call after the report. “We’ve tried repeatedly to make HBO Max available” on Amazon, he said. “Unfortunately, Amazon has taken an approach of treating HBO Max and its customers differently than how they’ve chosen to treat other services and their customers."

Not that intellectual consistency is a thing we do anymore in the United States, but some observers justifiably found AT&T's whining a bit ironic:

Maybe it's just me, but a 30 year natural monopoly gatekeeper that just got done lobbying to kill net neutrality rules (designed to ensure AT&T couldn't abuse its broadband monopoly) pivoting unironically to complaining about unfair treatment is... kind of funny?

The truth is that while Stankey tries to blame Amazon for its predicament, most of AT&T's wounds are self-inflicted. Despite the company getting a $42 billion tax break from the Trump administration in exchange for doing less than nothing, and despite billions more in Trump administration regulatory favors designed to protect AT&T's dominance (like neutering the FCC from within or killing broadband privacy rules), and despite spending $150 billion on megamergers to dominate the sector... AT&T's still losing pay TV subscribers hand over fist.

Why? One, because AT&T's streaming market entry strategy was such a confusing branding mess, it wound up confusing even the company's own employees. Two, because the bullying strategies that work in the uncompetitive broadband sector, don't work in a sector with actual competition, and a need for innovation and collaboration. Three, because AT&T spent $150 billion on mergers, then tried to extract that money from its customers in the form of rate hikes, seemingly oblivious that the entire point of "cord cutting" and streaming for the end users is greater flexibility at lower costs.

The lion's share of AT&T's troubles right now are self-inflicted, yet a natural monopoly whining about being treated unfairly does at least bring some much needed entertainment value during these dark times.

Filed Under: competition, gatekeeper, hbo max, john stankey, streaming, streaming tv
Companies: amazon, at&t


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 27 Jul 2020 @ 6:11am

    The ultimate losers? The Consumers

    And consumers like me are the ultimate losers, because I'm willing to pay $15 a month for HBO Max for the exclusive content, it's just that since it's not on Roku, AT&T isn't seeing a dime from me.

    They had an opportunity for adoption and they blew it. At least with Disney they wanted their services to go on everything and were clear about what Disney+ was. AT&T/Warner failed on both accounts.

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

    • icon
      ECA (profile), 27 Jul 2020 @ 12:43pm

      Re: The ultimate losers? The Consumers

      The best part of this, is HBO on cable wasnt expensive. But now they are charging more if you watch it online.

      The Last CEO Quit, after this years wage increase, to over 38 million per year. About $3000 per hour, 24/7.
      IF he had taken a dent in the pay, to help cover the expenditures, from the mergers, He would probably still be there.
      But IMO, I have not seen ANY CEO of a USA corp, take it in the shins to keep a company going. Unlike JAL, whose CEO, dropped his own wages Below the pilots wages, to keep the Airline running.

      The Old ideals of Sharing the Profits that are left, to pay the Top of the company are gone. Now you have contract workers, and WOW, what a contract.

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

      • icon
        Samuel Abram (profile), 27 Jul 2020 @ 4:45pm

        Re: Re: The ultimate losers? The Consumers

        I have not seen ANY CEO of a USA corp, take it in the shins to keep a company going. Unlike JAL, whose CEO, dropped his own wages Below the pilots wages, to keep the Airline running.

        Not only that, but even Nintendo, who is like a cross between Apple and Disney, had a CEO (the late Satoru Iwata, for those keeping track at home) who took a pay cut when the financial reports were grim. American CEO's, by contrast, would lay off their work force. This is why Japanese Capitalism > American Capitalism.

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

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 27 Jul 2020 @ 7:06am

    What happened?

    AT&T..."Get off my lawn!"..."Hey, where's my lawn?"

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Jul 2020 @ 7:20am

    The worm has turned.

    We don't care. We don't have to. We're customers with a choice.

    Go reach out and touch someone, AT&T.

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 27 Jul 2020 @ 9:09am

    'Who do you think you are?!'

    "AT&T’s chief executive, John Stankey, had some harsh words for Amazon on the earnings call after the report. “We’ve tried repeatedly to make HBO Max available” on Amazon, he said. “Unfortunately, Amazon has taken an approach of treating HBO Max and its customers differently than how they’ve chosen to treat other services and their customers."

    Given the arrogance ad history of dishonesty in the company in question I can't help but suspect that the 'different' treatment they've found themselves on the receiving end is likely simply being told that no, Amazon will not just accept the incredibly skewed in AT&T's favor terms offered, and if they want HBO Max on Amazon it's going to be on Amazon's terms, not theirs.

    If that is the case I guess it'll be time to break out the nano-violin again as a terrible company gets to experience what it's like to be on the other side of a lopsided power dynamic for once.

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

    • icon
      ECA (profile), 27 Jul 2020 @ 2:25pm

      Re: 'Who do you think you are?!'

      its kinda funny..
      I will bet, ATT wants all of the Advert sales..
      They DONT want to pay for access to Amazon or Roku.
      ANd they dont want to setup their OWN data storage to be sent back and forth threw Amazon or roku.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Jul 2020 @ 9:36am

    AT&T is not used to competition, its used to having market domination with barriers to stop other Companys entering the market .
    Amazon is not perfect but at least it understands it has to offer services that customers want at a reasonable price. It did not manipulate rules or laws to block possible competition.
    AT&T is not used to having to negotiate with anyone or to have to pay another company to get acess to users.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Jul 2020 @ 12:24pm

    For decades[...] If you wanted to subscribe to television service, you were required to rent a locked down, highly proprietary cable box courtesy of the industry's cable hardware monopoly.

    For decades? That doesn't seem quite right. At best, we might barely get to 2 decades, but probably only for certain premium services. Digital cable just wasn't common, and access to analog cable was mostly controlled by filters—with set-top descramblers only needed for pay-per-view and some "extra-"premium channels.

    Until digital cable took off throughout the 2000s, a standard tuner could access any unscrambled cable channel. By around 1990, even cheap TVs were including UHF/CATV-capable tuners. We had a good decade-long run of products that could actually do what people wanted, without a pile of external boxes, extra remote-controls, etc.

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

    • icon
      JoeCool (profile), 27 Jul 2020 @ 1:08pm

      Re:

      The use of notch filters that would plug into the box behind your house where the cable entered allowed cable companies to allow/remove blocks of channels with the ease of inserting/removing a filter plug. This was in place as early as the early 80s when my dad worked for Qube Cable. Channels like HBO and Skinemax ( ;) ) were put into channel blocks that could easily be blocked unless you paid for them. It required special tools to get into the box and remove the filters, and they could sense when you did so yourself, making it fairly easy to catch pirates. Someone with enough know-how could work around this, but it was enough to thwart the average person.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 28 Jul 2020 @ 8:36am

        Re: Re:

        It required special tools to get into the box and remove the filters, and they could sense when you did so yourself, making it fairly easy to catch pirates. Someone with enough know-how could work around this, but it was enough to thwart the average person.

        When we first got a cable modem in the late '90s, they ran a new cable line into the house for it, and stuck a big "DANGER: cable modems only; this could damage a TV" tag on it. But, a schoolmate figured out the tag was a lie, and this wire actually contained the unfiltered signal. So, we had a good few years of having every unscrambled channel. (The 6-way splitter did produce a large drop in signal-to-noise ratio, visible on the modem's SNMP interface but evidently unnoticed by the company.)

        In those days, free cable TV was something people wanted. We'd get excited if one of our student-housing suitemates accidentally had an active line, and otherwise we'd scheme to split it from the common TV room. I kind of doubt that any non-elderly people care anymore. When a cable installer showed up to tell me he'd be cutting off the free cable at my current apartment, unless I was going to sign up, I'd never even noticed I had it. Live TV sucks.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Jul 2020 @ 12:47pm

    AT&T has ripped and gouged its customers for so long, I find it hard to even care.

    I dropped their services due to inexcusably poor service and jacking prices. I didn't do these megamergers and I sure am not going to pay for them through price hikes.

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

    • icon
      Anon E. Mous (profile), 27 Jul 2020 @ 2:26pm

      Re:

      Picking the peoples pockets for years and continuing to do so and people leaving ... like what nerve the consumer has to do this to them after all they have done for us...lol

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

  • icon
    Anon E. Mous (profile), 27 Jul 2020 @ 2:25pm

    Stankey is a prime example of many CEO's in the landscape of large companies who this and believe mergers will pave the way to riches and cost be damned and that no matter what the price of those mergers are we can pass it on to the customer who will happily pay whatever we charge.

    AT&T and many other cable and telcos have been bleeding customers dry for years, the go to method to increase revenue for wall street has always been to raise the rates add more fees and give the consumer less and lees for the dollars they spend and as an added bonus lets just give you even shitter service then we have before.

    Instead of changing and adapting to the landscape on the horizon and IPTV and streaming services that are becoming more and more a choice of consumers AT&T and other telcos have stuck their head in the sand and declared these IPTV and streaming services a flash in the pan and here we are how many years later and those services are growing and the Cable co and Telco's are in decline

    It's bad enough that Stankey and pals thought that buying competitors and trying to make them the only choice or at least limiting the consumers options was a good idea and that the money would roll in but this another example of corporate stupidity. AT&T decision to screw with the success HBO was having with some of their programming and put in more cheaper and abundance of whatever they can find programming hasnt exactly been to the betterment IMHO in honesty some of the crap on HBO these days just goes to show how one strategy can start to derail a successful entity and the love it has built up with fans of its content

    Sorry but the constant rate hikes, the additional make believe fees that the cable and telcos seem to think they can keep raising to levels where they seem to be on par with the cheapest plans for tv or internet service just shows you how bad their bottom line is and how they desperate they are to get additional revenue to keep the illusion of profitability, sooner or later the house of cards will come crashing down, because Stankey plans of raising rates and customers will stay with us is doomed to fail like other telcos and cable co's are also finding

    is AT&T too big to fail, no, but you can bet your ass they will cry to the goverment they are , but sorry it is time for AT&T to take a massive face plant, even though we all know it will be BK and wipe this debt sell off a few assets and keep on going with some other clever soul who wont do any better than Stankey will.

    Honestly the feds would be better off to break AT&T up like they did with Ma Bell and quit allowing behemoths like this to grow, because they are destined to fail

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

  • icon
    nerdrage (profile), 27 Jul 2020 @ 3:23pm

    what goes around....

    AT&T and Comcast are waking up to a whole new world, in which they don't have much control and since HBO Max and Peacock don't exactly have must-see content, consumers can just shrug and move on if they don't see them on Roku or Amazon Fire devices. By the time the power struggle is sorted out, people will have forgotten HBO Max and Peacock even exist.

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

    • icon
      Samuel Abram (profile), 27 Jul 2020 @ 4:39pm

      Re: what goes around....

      HBO Max and Peacock don't exactly have must-see content

      There's actually something I want to watch on HBO Max: Close Enough by J.G. Quintel, creator of The Regular Show, with some episodes written by Bill Oakley, who wrote the Steamed Hams bit on the Simpsons. Unfortunately, HBO Max is a whopping $15, has to be attached to a service, and isn't on my preferred streaming device (i.e. Roku). It's as if they're trying to do everything possible to make me pirate the show, but I'm not going to do that because I want there to be more of it and piracy would defeat the purpose of watching it legitimately, which is trying to make sure there's more of the show. Besides, I'm not a pirate, despite AT&T's wishes…I mean, that is what they want, right? Why else would they make it so hard to access their show?

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

      • icon
        Federico (profile), 28 Jul 2020 @ 7:04am

        Re: Re: what goes around....

        the purpose of watching it legitimately, which is trying to make sure there's more of the show

        You'd probably have better luck just mailing a check to the producers (as such a payment method still exists in USA).

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

        • icon
          Samuel Abram (profile), 28 Jul 2020 @ 7:18am

          Re: Re: Re: what goes around....

          You'd probably have better luck just mailing a check to the producers (as such a payment method still exists in USA).

          The problem with that is that I don't own the IP to the show; AT&T does. Therein lies the problem.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 28 Jul 2020 @ 8:42am

        Re: Re: what goes around....

        I'm not going to do that because I want there to be more of it and piracy would defeat the purpose of watching it legitimately

        You're free to obey bad laws and claim moral superiority if you like, but if you don't subscribe to HBO, they're getting $0 either way. Better to have $0 and a chance at word of mouth, than $0 with nobody watching.

        For most people, the purpose of watching a show is to see the show, not to send coded signals of popularity.

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

        • icon
          Samuel Abram (profile), 28 Jul 2020 @ 8:53am

          Re: Re: Re: what goes around....

          For most people, the purpose of watching a show is to see the show, not to send coded signals of popularity.

          It's different when one of the writers of the show, Bill Oakley, was (and is) incredibly nice to me on Twitter, a platform where everyone hates each other. Piracy seems like slapping him in the face. While there's a greater ethical argument to be made for piracy for long dead authors, I don't want to do it to someone who genuinely treated me with respect and had shown love to the "Steamed Hams" meme when everyone made a remix out of it. It just seems extremely disrespectful.

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

        • icon
          Samuel Abram (profile), 28 Jul 2020 @ 12:53pm

          Re: Re: Re: what goes around....

          For most people, the purpose of watching a show is to see the show, not to send coded signals of popularity.

          Also, for that matter, I actually want to see the show.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Jul 2020 @ 8:02pm

    The worst the about At@t is.. and I dread to think about it.. this shitty corporation is going to be around a lot longer than anyone living today.

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


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Essential Reading
Techdirt Insider Chat
Recent Stories

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.