AT&T reported this morning that DIRECTV, AT&T TV and U-verse combined for a net loss of 617,000 subscribers in the 2020 fourth quarter. The company’s live streaming service, AT&T TV Now, lost a net of 27,000 subscribers. (AT&T this month merged AT&T TV Now with AT&T TV.)

The company blamed the losses on “competition (and) lower gross adds from the continued focus on adding higher value customers and a programming dispute, partially offset by lower churn.” AT&T’s TV services in December were engaged in a three-week long blackout of Tegna-owned local stations due to a carriage dispute.

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Despite the explanation, the losses continue a long streak of massive quarterly TV losses for AT&T. The company reported in October a net loss of 627,000 video subscribers in the third quarter. In last year’s fourth quarter, DIRECTV and U-verse combined for 945,000 defections.

In the last year, DIRECTV, AT&T TV and U-verse have combined for roughly three million subscriber losses while AT&T TV Now lost 268,000 customers. AT&T’s TV services had a combined 17.2 million subscribers at the end of the fourth quarter.

That means that AT&T has lost approximately nine million video subscribers since it purchased DIRECTV in 2015. The satellite service had 20.2 million subscribers at the end of the second quarter five years ago. U-verse, which was owned by AT&T prior to the company’s July 2015 purchase of DIRECTV, had 5.97 million at the same point.

The sub decline is one reason why AT&T is reportedly seeking to sell a minority or majority stake in DIRECTV, and probably U-verse. Reuters and Bloomberg reported last week that the company is now engaged in exclusive talks with TPG, an equity firm based in San Francisco and Fort Worth, Texas. It’s unclear if TPG would assume operational control over DIRECTV and U-verse if the sale is completed.

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— Phillip Swann