Dan York Named CEO of Cox Media Group

Dan York, former chief content officer at DirecTV and MediaPlay News “Digital Driver,” has been named CEO of Cox Media Group.

York will be responsible for all aspects of managing the company’s media platforms and will oversee CMG’s long-term strategic priorities.

Steve Pruett, who was interim CEO, will continue as executive chairman of CMG. He said York’s success in media, content, distribution, operations, and successfully leading large organizations, makes him essential.

Dan York

“Most importantly, [York] embraces contemporary thinking as the media landscape continues to evolve,” Pruett said in a statement. “We have full confidence he is the right person to lead CMG in the next phase of the company’s growth.”

As CCO at DirecTV, York developed a reputation for being a hard negotiator, including driving programmers to tears during all-night contract proceedings, according to a 2016 Los Angeles Times profile.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

York helped build AT&T’s video business over the past 15 years from a start-up to one of the nation’s largest pay-TV provider and the world’s largest licensor of content. During his tenure he oversaw all content activities, including licensing, operations, strategy, investments, original content, compliance, and ran AT&T’s ad sales and regional sports networks.

Indeed, it was York who allegedly was instrumental in preventing DirecTV from picking up the Los Angeles Dodgers’ regional cable channel, SportsNet LA, which is controlled by the former Time Warner Cable (now part of Charter Communications). The heavy-handed tactics resulted in the Justice Department lawsuit against AT&T-owned DirecTV.

Follow us on Instagram

“We all negotiate hard to get good deals,” a veteran TV executive told the Times. “But Dan mashes your face into the cement.”

DirecTV and other AT&T cable systems finally ended the Dodgers blackout in April 2020.

AT&T Keeping DirecTV Cards Close to Vest

Dish Network’s Charlie Ergen may think it’s “inevitable” about a satellite TV merger with AT&T’s DirecTV, but AT&T COO John Stankey is keeping his cards close to the vest.

Speaking March 3 at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference in San Francisco, Stankey appeared open to industry consolidation while underscoring the strength of satellite TV’s rural customers.

Characterizing any merger as “a little problematic” due to regulatory issues, Stankey reiterated that the $48.5 billion acquisition of El Segundo, Calif.-based DirecTV in 2015 was always about securing video customers for future distribution technology, i.e. over-the-top video and high=speed Internet.

Follow us on Instagram

“We will continue to offer satellite and DirecTV where it has a rightful place in the market, places where cable broadband is not prevalent, oftentimes, more rural or less dense suburban areas,” Stankey said. “We’ll continue to offer it for customers on a stand-alone basis, who find its superior content offering to be something that they wish to have.”

AT&T’s WarnerMedia Entertainment is about to launch subscription service HBO Max in May, while just-released AT&T TV (formerly DirecTV Now) bowed March 2.

“We’re really pleased with what we saw [with AT&T TV] … that we would be able to replicate how customers were receiving the product in the other markets that we would enter where we own facilities and are able to pair video with broadband,” Stankey said.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Regardless, at the time of the 2015 acquisition, AT&T U-verse and DirecTV had a combined 26 million customers in the United States and more than 19 million customers in Latin America, including Mexico and the Caribbean.

Flash-forward to the end of 2019 and AT&T had 19.5 million domestic pay-TV subscribers, with another 13.3 million in Latin America. That’s a decline of 25% and 30%, respectively.

Wall Street analyst Craig Moffett contends regulatory issues shouldn’t be a problem for DirecTV and Dish as they were in 2002 when the Justice Department sued to block a deal, saying the merger would stifle competition and hurt consumers.

“Satellite TV was growing by leaps and bounds at the time. Now it is in free fall. That alone may be enough to settle the debate; sure, two would be better than one, but both are credible bankruptcy risks on their own. Heck, they’d be a credible bankruptcy risk even together,” Moffett wrote in Sept. 30, 2019 note.

He contends a merger argument could best be presented to regulators as an act of preserving pay-TV for rural Americans without access to high-speed Internet.

“[That] would be a reasonably persuasive one,” Moffet wrote.

 

Charlie Ergen: Dish Network, DirecTV Merger ‘Probably Inevitable’

With Dish Network and DirecTV losing nearly 4 million combined linear TV subscribers in 2019, it seems just a matter of time before the two satellite TV operators combine operations.

That’s the sentiment coming from Dish CEO Charlie Ergen who is aggressively transitioning his company into a wireless telecommunications provider featuring a nationwide 5G network.

Speaking on the Feb. 19 fiscal call, Ergen said is “probably inevitable” Dish and DirecTV would merge due to ongoing consumer migration away from linear television.

Follow us on Instagram

“Growth in TV is not coming from linear satellite TV providers,” Ergen said.

Indeed, it’s not. DirecTV and AT&T U-verse lost 945,000 subs in the fourth quarter, while Dish lost 194,000, which was an improvement from 338,000 subs lost in the fourth quarter 2018.

Ergen said industry growth is being driven by “huge programmers and trillion-dollar companies” putting immense resources into streaming video. The executive contends over-the-top video has become so pervasive that regulatory issues regarding a possible merger between Dish and DirecTV would be minimal.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

“Obviously there still could be regulatory issues there. And we’ll have to see how that all develops, but [a merger] to me seems, and maybe each company only has two subscribers when you put them together, but eventually those two are probably going to, that’s going to make some sense,” Ergen said. “Because you can’t swim upstream against a real tide of big OTT players.”

While AT&T has 3 million fewer pay-TV subs since acquiring DirecTV in 2015, COO John Stankey contends the pay-TV operator — via high-speed Internet service — is integral to the successful launch of HBO Max.

Stankey has suggested DirecTV suffers competitively by not being able to bundle high-speed Internet to consumers as Comcast does.

“Where we’ve built better broadband, the [pay-TV] business is performing just fine,” he said late last year.

 

AT&T Content Chief Dan York Leaving

AT&T has confirmed that longtime entertainment executive Dan York is leaving the telecom, effective March 1. His position will be assumed by Rob Thun, SVP of content and programming.

York, who had been chief content officer at DirecTV since 2012, transitioned over to AT&T after the telecom acquired the satellite TV operator.

Follow us on Instagram

“We appreciate Dan’s many years of service,” Thaddeus Arroyo, chief executive of the company’s consumer and communications unit, told the Los Angeles Times in a statement. “His contributions significantly shaped our content strategies and we are grateful for his leadership and commitment to providing our customers with their favorite live sports and entertainment.”

Dan York

York, a former “Digital Driver” at Media Play News, was known for his negotiating skills with content holders. Yet, in recent years, DirecTV has lost millions of subscribers as AT&T transitions focus on WarnerMedia Entertainment and HBO Max.

York was responsible for securing DirecTV’s exclusive “NFL Sunday Ticket,” a multi-game programing deal that reportedly costs the satellite operator $1.5 billion annually in license fees.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

AT&T Outlines How It Will Jumpstart HBO Max Subscriptions

In the rush to validate expensive forays into proprietary over-the-top video distribution, media/tech giants such as Disney and Apple have partnered with third-party vendors and/or leaned on subsidiaries to boost subscriber retention.

HBO is no different.

During AT&T’s Jan. 29 fiscal call, WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey, who is also president and COO of the telecom parent, disclosed details how company plans to support the May debut of HBO Max — the SVOD platform company executives contend is better than the competition, including Netflix.

Indeed, AT&T said it bypassed $1.2 billion in fourth-quarter ($2.8 billion in annual) revenue forgoing third-party licensing of Warner Bros. Television properties “Friends” and “The Big Bang Theory,” among other shows, in advance of the Max launch.

Follow us on Instagram

AT&T is going to give Max free to existing HBO subs through DirecTV and AT&T U-verse — or about 10 million consumers. The number is significant, since that’s the tally Disney said it generated in the first 24 hours after launching Disney+, assisted in part by a promotion with Verizon affording the telecom’s data subs with a free year of service.

Apple, which reportedly already has more than 33 million Apple TV+ subs, is giving a free year of service with any new purchase of an iPhone, iPad, Mac or Apple Watch.

Meanwhile, the eight million HBO Now subs (currently paying the identical $14.99 Max fee) will be automatically eligible for a Max upgrade without cost provided they do not access the OTT service through third-party platforms such as Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Channels, Google Chromecast or Hulu, among other devices.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

AT&T will also incentivize its “highest ARPU” wireless subscribers with promotional Max offerings, in addition to foot traffic at any of the telecom’s 5,500 branded retail locations in the U.S.

“It’s a great opportunity to improve our overall churn [subscriber retention], which we’ve seen happen from giving HBO to current unlimited [wireless] customers,” Stankey said.

“With Max, we’ll offer consumers more than twice the amount of programming for the same price as HBO today,” he added.

Stankey said going forward HBO’s 34 million domestic linear subscribers should expect to see more generalized entertainment content, including unscripted reality shows, news and sports.

“It’s an important dance and choreography [with linear TV distributors] that we have to do to get right,” he said. “And we feel we’re positioned very well to make that happen.”

 

Private Equity Group Looking to Acquire DirecTV and Dish Network

Private equity firm Apollo Global Management is reportedly negotiating to acquire AT&T’s satellite TV service, DirecTV, along with competitor Dish Network.

The complicated transaction would enable AT&T to offload about $20 billion in debt, while maintaining control of the satellite service. It would also allow Dish Network CEO Charlie Ergen to unload the company’s declining pay-TV business, according to Fox Business, which first reported the story based on information from sources familiar with the situation.

Ergen, who has recently moved the company’s focus toward wireless networks and 5G, has made no secret his desire to combine the two satellite businesses.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

AT&T, which acquired DirecTV in 2015 for $49 billion, also purchased Time Warner for $85 billion, sending its debt load into the stratosphere.

Apollo, which has about $250 billion in its asset portfolio, would provide financing for the deal in exchange for a minority stake in the combined entity. The firm specializes in leveraged buyout transactions and purchases of distressed securities involving corporate restructuring, special situations, and industry consolidations.  Its holdings include Caesars Entertainment Corporation, CareerBuilder,  ADT and Rackspace.

AT&T told Fox it has received the offer but that there were no active discussions at this time.

COO John Stankey, who is also CEO of WarnerMedia, last month reiterated AT&T’s support DirecTV and over-the-top video unit, AT&T TV Now.

“We’re constantly looking at the [business] portfolio,” Stankey told The Wall Street Journal. “That’s the normal course of business and it’s not unique to DirecTV.”

 

AT&T Reportedly Considering Spinning Off DirecTV or Merging Unit With Dish Network

Facing mounting mergers-and-acquisition debt, criticism from an activist investor and changing consumer habits toward pay-TV, AT&T is reportedly considering spinning off its DirecTV subsidiary or combining it with competitor Dish Network.

The Wall Street Journal, citing sources familiar with the situation, said CEO Randall Stephenson is exploring the option despite telling an investor event this week he still the supports the satellite TV business AT&T acquired in 2015 for $49 billion.

While nothing could come of the situation, Dish co-founder/CEO Charles Ergen Sept. 17 told the same investor group he welcomes merging the two satellite providers. Ergen tried pursuing DirecTV in 2014, but lost out to AT&T.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Indeed, with 12 million subscribers — largely buttressed by standalone online TV service Sling TV — Dish would benefit from consolidation. AT&T has projected it would lose more than 1.4 million satellite subs in 2019, including rebranded DirecTV Now (AT&T TV) online subs.

However, when the former parents of Dish and DirecTV considered merging in 2001, federal regulators quashed the idea on antitrust issues.

The Trump Administration is still licking it wounds from a failed attempt to block AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner — a move some observers contend was largely based on politics involving the president’s dislike of Time Warner subsidiary CNN.

How that would impact a Dish/DirecTV combination is anyone’s guess.

“From a regulatory perspective, it hasn’t been successful and I don’t know that there is any change in that regulatory perspective,” AT&T CFO John Stephens said recently. “I understand the industrial logic, but quite frankly it’s been tried and has been rejected.”

AT&T CEO Defends Media Strategy, Including John Stankey as Possible Successor

Facing a boycott of sorts from an activist investor calling for senior management changes at AT&T, CEO Randall Stephenson Sept. 17 sought to outline to Wall Street why the telecom under its current management is on the right path in a rapidly changing media landscape.

Speaking Sept. 17 at Goldman Sachs 28th Annual Communacopia confab in New York, Stephenson said his decision to spend hundreds of billions of dollars acquiring satellite operator DirecTV and Time Warner was based in part on an evolving in a digital ecosystem.

“If you had asked me that question five years ago, I’d be hard-pressed to say it makes sense, in the old world,” he said. “In the new world, it makes all the sense in the world. We believe people are going to spend more and more of their day watching premium content.”

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Stephenson said AT&T has more than 170 million “customer relationships” requiring more bandwidth and connectivity to consume content, which is why he spearheaded the telecom’s $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner two years ago and the $67 billion purchase of DirecTV in 2015.

AT&T also operates 5,500 retail stores nationwide.

But it was those acquisitions, which have ballooned AT&T’s debt exponentially, while at the same time DirecTV and AT&T U-verse continue hemorrhaging subscribers (1 million this year) that led investor Elliott Management, who owns a $3.2 billion stake in AT&T, to write a letter to the board seeking changes.

Specifically, Elliott CEO Paul Singer wants Stephenson and COO John Stankey, who is also CEO of WarnerMedia, replaced.

Stephenson, who says the board will “evaluate [the letter] and see what makes sense for our shareholders,” says the content creation business is changing dramatically — moving from a linear TV distribution business model to over-the-top video.

The executive says WarnerMedia is uniquely qualified to meet the challenge with both himself and Stankey in their current positions.

“It’s a hard play to take a legacy company on legacy distribution models and make a pivot into digital distribution,” Stephenson said. “[Stankey] has done a really nice good job breaking down the [intra-company] silos. He’s got experiences that are long, wide and deep.”

“[WarnerMedia] is one of the largest-scaled TV and film production studios in the world,” he said, adding that AT&T has now become the largest distributor of HBO in the world, including 66% bigger than the premium channel’s No. 2 distributor.

Stephenson said acquiring Time Warner was due to the fact the media distribution world was changing and not growing on legacy pay-TV platforms, but rather digital platforms.

“We’ve had to reorient the business,” he said.

AT&T CEO John Donovan Retiring Oct. 1

John Donovan, CEO of AT&T’s communications segment, which includes wireless and troubled DirecTV and DirecTV Now, has announced he is retiring on Oct. 1.

AT&T has not named a successor, although media reports suggest Lori Lee, CEO of AT&T’s Latin America operations and global marketing officer, could assume Donovan’s position and become the telecom’s most senior female executive.

The 58-year-old Donovan, who has been with AT&T since 2008, helped spearhead the telecom’s $48.5 billion acquisition of satellite TV operator DirecTV in 2014.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

With that service now projected to lose about 2 million subscribers annually to alternative distribution services such as SVOD and online TV, AT&T is struggling to reshape a traditional pay-TV distribution business in the rapidly changing over-the-top video ecosystem.

And simply launching online platform DirecTV Now hasn’t been the answer. The service continues to lose subscribers who signed up for the initial loss-leading $34.99 monthly fee. That fee has been upgraded to $39.99.

Last month AT&T said it was changing the service’s name to AT&T Now. Subsidiary WarnerMedia is launching HBO Max early next year, while continuing to operate HBO Now in its current form in the interim.

Indeed, consumer choice for accessing home entertainment continues to evolve — driven in large part by the actions of Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney-owned Hulu.

Craig Moffett, an analyst for research firm MoffettNathanson, lauded Donovan’s telecommunications contributions to AT&T, while tempering praise with market realities in the overall home entertainment market.

“It’s the entertainment businesses that are the problem,” Moffett told The Wall Street Journal.

AT&T Rebranding ‘DirecTV Now’ to ‘AT&T TV Now’

As expected, AT&T has begun informing DirecTV Now subscribers that the online TV platform is changing its brand name to AT&T TV Now.

The telecom giant, whose WarnerMedia subsidiary is in the process of rolling out the HBO Max subscription streaming video service, is attempting to rejuvenate DirecTV Now, which continues to lose subscribers who signed up for the initial loss-leading $34.99 monthly fee. That fee has been upgraded to $39.99.

“In the coming weeks, the AT&T TV app will be available for download across various app stores, and current DirecTV Now customers will see this update automatically on their devices,” AT&T said in a statement. “We’ll share more details on this rollout when it begins.”

AT&T acquired El Segundo Calif.-based satellite operator DirecTV in 2014 for $48.5 billion. It acquired Time Warner in 2016 for $84.5 billion.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!