DIRECTV’s TV services (DIRECTV, DIRECTV Stream and U-verse) have most more than 12 million subscribers since AT&T purchased the satellite company in 2015, according to financial reports. That’s nearly 50 percent of the subscriber base from seven years ago.

At the end of the third quarter of 2015, five weeks after AT&T purchased DIRECTV, the company had had 25.47 million subscribers — 19.57 million from DIRECTV and 5.9 million from U-verse.

(AT&T launched a live streaming service in 2016, now known as DIRECTV Stream, and spun off the three TV services with private equity firm, TPG, in 2021. AT&T owns 70 percent of the new DIRECTV company while TPG owns 30 percent.)

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Fitch Ratings, one of the nation’s largest credit ratings companies, said this week that the three DIRECTV services lost around 500,000 subscribers in the third quarter of 2022, bringing the company’s subscriber total to approximately 13.3 million. (Since the spin-off, DIRECTV does not publicly report its subscriber numbers.) If that number is true, that means that DIRECTV has lost nearly 12.2 million subscribers in the seven years since AT&T bought it for $67 billion.

“This transaction allows us to significantly expand our high-speed Internet service to reach millions more households, which is a perfect complement to our coast-to-coast TV and mobile coverage,” then AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said in a 2015 press release announcing the close of the DIRECTV sale. “We’re now a fundamentally different company with a diversified set of capabilities and businesses that set us apart from the competition.”

The failure to reach ‘millions more households’ by combining DIRECTV with AT&T’s communications business contributed to AT&T spinning off the TV company and later spinning off Warner Media in a deal with Discovery. AT&T decided to scale back and primarily become a communications business again.

(Stephenson stepped down as AT&T CEO in 2020 and is now the president of the Boy Scouts of America.)

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The pay TV industry as a whole has suffered significant losses over the last seven years due to cord-cutting and the explosion of live and on-demand streaming services. But DIRECTV’s subscriber erosion is unique. By comparison, Comcast has lost 5.68 million subscribers since the third quarter of 2015 (22.26 million to 16.58 million) to DIRECTV’s 12.2 million. Dish has lost 3.9 million subscribers in the seven years. (13.9 million to 10.02 million).

Despite DIRECTV losing around 500,000 subscribers in this year’s third quarter, Fitch notes that the loss is an improvement over previous years when it lost as much 1.4 million subscribers in a single three-month period.

“Although still significant, DIRECTV’s subscriber loss rates have substantially improved over the last two years, driven by lower churn,” Fitch states.

The financial firm says it believes that DIRECTV Stream needs to grow to offset further losses from the satellite business. However, Stream faces competition from a handful of other well-financed live streamers, including Google’s YouTube TV, Disney’s Hulu Live and Dish’s Sling TV.

DIRECTV’s satellite business is facing the likelihood of the loss of the NFL Sunday Ticket after the 2022 season.

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The company’s uncertain outlook is a major reason why some (including Dish chairman Charlie Ergen) believe a merger between DIRECTV and Dish is ‘inevitable.’

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— Phillip Swann