Q. I’ve had DIRECTV for a long time and I remember when AT&T took it over that they made a bunch of promises. Curious if they actually kept those promises. Can you look them up and see? — Teresa, Dunkirk, Maryland.
Teresa, you have a great memory. On July 24, 2015, the day AT&T completed its acquisition of DIRECTV, it posted a statement that promised both DIRECTV and U-verse customers that it would adhere to certain policies under the new company.
At the time, there was considerable discussion on social media sites that AT&T would dramatically alter the way both TV services had operated in recent years.
So, nearly five years later, has AT&T kept its promises? Let’s look back at some of the more salient pledges from that July 24, 2015 statement. I will offer a few comments under each one, but I would like to get your thoughts as well in the Comments section below. (Note: AT&T’s promises/questions are in bold below while its answers are in italics.)
Why is AT&T buying DIRECTV?
“So we can offer millions of people more choices for video entertainment on any screen from almost anywhere, any time. Think about TV everywhere, any time and on any screen, and the value and convenience of simple, integrated packages of TV, mobile and Internet services. No one else can deliver what we can. We’ll now be able to meet consumers’ future entertainment preferences, whether they want traditional TV service with premier programming, their favorite content on a mobile device, or on-demand video streamed over the Internet to any screen.”
For DIRECTV customers, I would submit that AT&T has largely fulfilled this objective. The satcaster allows subscribers to watch most of their favorite channels on multiple devices, including televisions and smart phones. Of course, there is nothing particularly novel about this feature as it’s available on nearly every pay TV service.
Will my existing TV services (DIRECTV or AT&T U-verse) change as a result of this acquisition?
“No, your existing services will not change.”
That is a very broad question, but there’s little doubt that DIRECTV and U-verse have both changed considerably over the five years, and not for the good.
By all measures, the satcaster’s customer service has declined dramatically. DIRECTV has also ceased to provide new technology innovations, and its one-time status as a sports leader has diminished due to AT&T refusing to carry several new sports channels. (AT&T did recently finally agree to carry SportsNet LA, six years after its launch.)
AT&T’s new approach has contributed to DIRECTV losing several million subscribers since the 2015 purchase.
As for U-verse, in 2018, AT&T eliminated its web site which enabled subscribers to stream their channels and make programming and billing changes. In addition, the company is no longer taking new orders for U-verse, a strong suggestion that the service’s days are numbered.
Will my TV channel lineup change?
“No, we will not make changes to your TV channel lineup as a result of this acquisition.”
Over a five-year period, there will always be some changes to a channel lineup. But I would say there’s been relatively little disruption. The biggest change has been AT&T’s decision to be tougher in carriage negotiations with the networks which has led to some short-term blackouts.
Will this deal cause my current TV package prices to go up or down?
“We will not increase prices as a result of this acquisition. We are committed to giving customers the best value and service. In fact, in the coming weeks we will introduce new offers featuring greater value and convenience, and new levels of integration – across our TV, mobile and Internet services.”
This is the biggest whopper. AT&T has raised prices every January for both DIRECTV and U-verse since the 2015 acquisition of the former. The company could argue the price hikes are necessary due to escalating programming costs. But AT&T knew that the costs were rising when it bought DIRECTV.
The company could contend that prices did not rise “as a result of this acquisition,” meaning the purchase itself did not contribute to the increases. But the company certainly left the impression with many subscribers that prices were not going up for any reason.
Will I get to keep NFL Sunday ticket on DIRECTV?
“Yes, NFL Sunday Ticket will continue through DIRECTV. You will continue to get every out-of-market NFL game, every Sunday afternoon, on any screen — TV, mobile devices or PCs.”
AT&T has kept this promise despite recurring news reports that the NFL might opt out of its exclusive agreement with DIRECTV. The current deal is set to expire after the 2022 season.
Will DIRECTV customers get access to special TV content on AT&T wireless phones now?
“We look forward to delivering more video content options over multiple screens, including wireless devices, tablets, laptops and computers. We will share updates on new services as soon as we have them.”
AT&T has dabbled with mobile-only TV services, such as AT&T Watch, but there has been nothing ‘special’ for DIRECTV customers.
Will my U-verse TV service eventually be replaced with DIRECTV service?
“U-verse TV customers can keep their award winning U-verse TV services.”
U-verse is still in business so promise kept. So far.
Bottom line: I would give AT&T a mixed grade for keeping the promises made on July 24, 2015. DIRECTV and U-verse retain the same look and feel of five years ago, but both services have suffered from AT&T’s strategy of investing more time and money in new streaming services, such as AT&T TV, AT&T TV Now and HBO Max. The company clearly believes that streaming is the future, which continues to perplex observers as to why it bought DIRECTV in the first place.
And as for its pricing pledge, well, the company has raised prices five times since the acquisition. ‘Nuff said.
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— Phillip Swann