TV Answer Man, a friend of mine in the TV biz told me that DIRECTV tried to buy Netflix. How is that possible? The company is losing subscribers left and right. — Thomas, Brooklyn, New York.

Thomas, with DIRECTV losing millions of subscribers over the last several years, it’s hard to believe that the satcaster was once interested in buying the world’s largest streaming service, Netflix. But according to cable TV legend John Malone, it’s true.

The industry web site, Deadline, reported a few years ago that a decade ago when Malone was chairman of Liberty Media, which then had a controlling interest in DIRECTV, he tried to get the satellite TV service to buy Netflix. In fact, he summoned Netflix co-founder (and then CEO) Reed Hastings to a Liberty Media board meeting to discuss the possibility.

“I tried when I chaired DIRECTV to acquire Netflix, and that was when (Hastings) was struggling with getting rid of his old mail platform. What I saw was global scale,” Malone said in 2020 during an industry confab.

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Apparently the talks never flourished, and Malone’s most prominent memory of the meeting was Hastings saying he didn’t think Netflix would ever produce original content. Of course, the streamer has become one of the industry’s leading producers of original programming.

“He assured us all that he had no intention of producing his own content … to which I responded ‘bull—-,” Malone told the Paley Conference. “It was clear where he was headed. If he didn’t understand (yet), he would,”

Liberty Media later spun off DIRECTV as a separate company, which was sold to AT&T in 2015. AT&T has since established DIRECTV as a separate company with the telco holding a 70 percent stake and private equity firm, TPG, owning 30 percent.

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It’s easy to speculate how DIRECTV would have been different if it had purchased Netflix roughly a dozen years ago. With a rapidly growing TV venture in the fold such as Netflix, DIRECTV’s shareholders and executive team may have preferred remaining as a standalone company. The AT&T sale may have never happened, and DIRECTV may have been able to leverage Netflix’s growing reach to keep the satellite TV business vibrant.

Netflix, of course, has its own special ‘what if’ story. The streaming service once tried to get video retail giant Blockbuster to buy it. The failed effort triggered Netflix’s rise and Blockbuster’s downfall.

By the way, DIRECTV was once also interested in purchasing Hulu, but was rebuffed when the streamer’s owners at the time pulled it off the market. Former DIRECTV CEO Mike White often lamented publicly that the Hulu deal never went through.

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— Phillip Swann