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AT&T Exploring Options for DirecTV as Pay-TV Subscriptions Continue Decline


(Bloomberg) — AT&T Inc. has begun to explore options for its 70% stake in DirecTV as it approaches the end of an agreement under which it can legally sell its interest in America’s third-largest pay-TV provider.

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Among AT&T’s options are: a dividend recapitalization, adding a new investor, or selling the stake and exiting the venture as early as August 2024, according to people familiar with the discussions, who asked not to be identified because the discussions aren’t public. A deal isn’t imminent and discussions are still in the early stages, they said. The current ownership structure may still continue as is.

AT&T co-owns DirecTV with private equity firm TPG Inc. as part of a joint venture formed in 2021. The business was valued at about $16 billion at the time. The partnership came with a three-year commitment that gave AT&T the option to sell its stake after July 31, 2024, and a clause that allows AT&T to hold sale discussions before the end of that commitment period.

DirecTV said it wasn’t aware of “any such exploration.” Representatives for AT&T and TPG declined to comment. AT&T shares rose by as much as 1.2% in after-hours trading on Wednesday before erasing gains.

Like nearly every other pay-TV provider in the US, DirecTV has struggled in recent years to compete with streaming networks, and has been losing subscribers. It lost about 400,000 customers in the second quarter, bringing its total subscriber count to 12.4 million, according to Leichtman Research Group. DirecTV had more than 15 million customers when the venture between AT&T and TPG was formed in 2021.

The declining customer base has cut into the cash distribution AT&T gets from DirecTV. In the first half of this year DirecTV payments to AT&T fell to $1.9 billion from $2.7 billion a year earlier.

DirecTV was one of several large divestitures by AT&T at the time when it was trying to reverse its $100 billion strategic swerve into the media business and return to its wireless and broadband roots. As part of the original combination with TPG, AT&T received $7.6 billion for its DirecTV satellite and streaming service, along with its U-verse TV operations.

AT&T had previously explored a merger between DirecTV and Dish Network Corp.’s satellite-TV service.

–With assistance from Ryan Gould and Liana Baker.

(Adds share move in the fourth paragraph)

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