“The Court’s decision could hardly have been more thorough, fact-based, and well-reasoned,” said AT&T General Counsel David McAtee in a statement. “While the losing party in litigation always has the right to appeal if it wishes, we are surprised that the DOJ has chosen to do so under these circumstances. We are ready to defend the Court’s decision at the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.”
The US Department of Justice will appeal the court ruling that allowed AT&T to purchase Time Warner Inc.
AT&T completed the merger after getting a favorable ruling from a judge at the US District Court for the District of Columbia last month. The Trump administration’s Justice Department did not seek a stay of the ruling, so AT&T was able to take ownership of Time Warner. But the DOJ is appealing the judge’s ruling to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the DOJ said in a court filing today.
A court could theoretically force AT&T and Time Warner to reverse the merger. AT&T said it would maintain some separation between its old and new business units in a post-verdict letter to the DOJ. That separation might make undoing the merger logistically easier if the DOJ wins its appeal.
A month after a judge approved AT&T’s $85.4 billion purchase of Time Warner with no conditions, the United States Department of Justice has announced plans to appeal the merger’s approval.
In a court document filed with the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, the DoJ announced its formal appeal. No additional data was included in the initial document.
Notice is hereby given that the United States of America, plaintiff in the above named case, appeals to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit from the final judgment entered in this action on June 12, 2018.
AT&T first announced its plan to purchase Time Warner in late 2017, but the acquisition was put on hold when the DoJ filed a lawsuit to put a stop to the merger based on the grounds that it would result in higher bills and fewer options for consumers.
A judge in June, however, ruled that the merger was legal, and while the Justice Department said it was disappointed in the court’s ruling and would consider its next steps “in light of [its] commitment to preserving competition for the benefit of American consumers,” it ultimately decided not to interfere with a stay at the time that the ruling was announced.
Just days after the judge’s approval, AT&T completed its acquisition of Time Warner, but the DoJ is still able to appeal the decision even after the completion of the merger.
Shortly after the acquisition, AT&T announced a new WatchTV service that offers AT&T wireless subscribers under the new “AT&T Unlimited &More” and “AT&T Unlimited &More Premium” plans access to more than 30 live channels and 15,000 TV shows and movies on demand. These new plans are more expensive than AT&T’s previous unlimited wireless plans, but includes WatchTV. On a standalone basis, WatchTV is $15 per month.
While AT&T said that its prices would not increase following the merger, it raised prices on its DirecTV Now plans by $5. AT&T also recently raised its administrative fees for postpaid wireless subscribers to $1.99, which some analysts have speculated is to make up for the expense of the Time Warner purchase.
AT&T has been the proud owner of HBO for less than a month, and it is already considering an overhaul that would see HBO produce more video that can compete for the attention of smartphone users. AT&T wants to boost revenue both in advertising and subscriptions, even if that means upending HBO’s longtime strategy of producing a relatively small number of high-quality shows.
John Stankey, an AT&T executive who is now CEO of the company’s WarnerMedia division, formed after last month’s acquisition of Time Warner Inc., described his vision in an hourlong “town hall meeting” with 150 employees. Audio of the meeting was obtained by The New York Times.
“It’s going to be a tough year,” Stankey said, according to the Times article. “It’s going to be a lot of work to alter and change direction a little bit.”
On June 19, former AT&T executive and new chief executive of Warner Media John Stankey spoke to a group of HBO employees about changes coming to the premium cable company in the near future. The discussion was held in the wake of AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner, which owns HBO, and also included HBO’s chief executive officer Richard Plepler.
The telecommunications company previously stated that it would take a “hands-off approach” to running HBO, but The New York Times this weekend reported on Stankey’s speech and it sounds like that might not be the case. According to a video of the discussion, Stankey explained Warner Media’s intent to align HBO more alongside streaming companies like Netflix in order to increase its subscriber base, although he refrained from referencing Netflix by name.
This means creating more content that releases at a faster pace, in comparison to HBO’s current stable of limited Sunday night-focused shows. According to Stankey, the goal is to increase the hours per day viewers watch HBO, which is currently less than rivals like Netflix and Hulu because of HBO’s smaller catalog.
“We need hours a day,” Mr. Stankey said, referring to the time viewers spend watching HBO programs. “It’s not hours a week, and it’s not hours a month. We need hours a day. You are competing with devices that sit in people’s hands that capture their attention every 15 minutes.”
Continuing this thread, Stankey specifically stated that more hours of user engagement means that Warner Media can “get more data and information” to monetize through advertisements and new subscription options.
“I want more hours of engagement. Why are more hours of engagement important? Because you get more data and information about a customer that then allows you to do things like monetize through alternate models of advertising as well as subscriptions, which I think is very important to play in tomorrow’s world.”
As the discussion continued, Stankey appeared to have butted heads slightly with Plepler on the topic of HBO’s monetization, which Stankey believes can be increased through his new methods. Plepler claimed that the company is already a consistent moneymaker, to which Stankey responded: “Yes, yes you do… Just not enough.”
Stankey and Warner Media hope that an increased output of original content will boost HBO’s 40 million paid subscribers in the United States, which Stankey said as of now “was not going to cut it.” Comparatively, Netflix earlier this year had 55 million U.S. subscribers and Hulu in May had 20 million.
HBO’s business currently expands across paid cable add-on packages, the connected HBO GO app, and standalone HBO NOW app. Stankey said that Warner Media’s plans will kick off soon and “there’s going to be more work” for HBO employees over the next twelve months, which he called a “dog year.”
While Apple wasn’t mentioned in the discussion, the Cupertino company is another upcoming competitor in the streaming TV market, with plans to debut more than a dozen television shows beginning sometime in 2019. Although the distribution of these shows remains unclear, the company is rumored to be planning a bundle with original TV content, Apple Music, and more.
AT&T is raising the base price of its DirecTV Now streaming service by $5 per month, despite promising in court that its acquisition of Time Warner Inc. would lower TV prices.
AT&T confirmed the price increase to Ars and said it began informing customers of the increase this past weekend. “The $5 increase will go into effect July 26 for new customers and varies for existing customers based on their billing date,” an AT&T spokesperson said.
The $5 increase will affect all DirecTV Now tiers except for a Spanish-language TV package, AT&T told Ars. That means the DirecTV Now packages that currently cost $35, $50, $60, and $70 a month will go up to $40, $55, $65, and $75.
One week after unveiling its new live streaming service “WatchTV,” AT&T has now begun rolling out the platform’s app on fourth-generation and fifth-generation Apple TV boxes, as well as on iOS [Direct Link] (via BestAppleTV). The service is a free add-on for anyone on AT&T’s new “Unlimited &More” and “Unlimited &More Premium” cellular plans, and is also available as a $15/month service for everyone else.
Like a few other live TV platforms, WatchTV includes just over 30 channels that you can stream live, including breaking news and film channels (but not sports). The service has 15,000 titles available to watch on demand, and subscribers to AT&T’s new &More Premium phone plan will be able to add one of several premium services for no extra charge: HBO, SHOWTIME, Cinemax, Starz, Amazon Music Unlimited, Pandora Premium, or VRV.
The full list of channels on WatchTV includes:
BBC World News
Hallmark Movies & Mysteries
Channels coming soon after launch include:
Users can stream on up to two devices at the same time, but WatchTV does not have a cloud DVR feature or any local news stations. Other than tvOS and iOS, the app is out now on Android, Amazon Fire TV, and Google Chromecast.
WatchTV is a direct result of AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner, with many of the channels on the service falling under the Time Warner umbrella. This week, the company raised the price of of the “administrative fee” it charges customers, which was speculated as a move to offset the debt incurred by its $85.4 billion purchase of Time Warner, although AT&T denied that by stating the administrative fee price is “standard” across the wireless industry.
AT&T is paying the Federal Communications Commission a $5.25 million fine to settle an investigation into a pair of 2017 outages that blocked over 15,000 people from making 911 calls.
According to the FCC [PDF], during a five hour outage on March 8, 2017, 12,600 unique users across the United States saw their emergency 911 calls fail, while during a 47 minute outage on May 1, 2017, 2,600 users had 911 calls fail.
The outages, which impacted AT&T’s Voice over LTE network used by many modern smartphones, were caused by planned network changes that were implemented on those days that inadvertently interfered with the routing of 911 calls.
During the March outage, the FCC says that AT&T also failed to “quickly, clearly, and fully notify” affected 911 call centers. These kinds of outages are “unacceptable” and according to the FFC, carriers have a responsibility to both prevent outages and in the event of an outage, notify call centers immediately.
Such preventable outages are unacceptable. Robust and reliable 911 service is a national priority, as repeatedly expressed by both Congress and the Commission. Carriers have a responsibility to both prevent outages and, if they do take place, quickly inform the Commission and affected 911 call centers. FCC rules mandate that mobile phone service providers “transmit all wireless 911 calls” and inform 911 call centers of any 911 network outage that lasts 30 minutes or more.
In addition to paying a $5.25 million fine to end the investigation, AT&T is also required to implement “proactive system changes” to reduce the likelihood and impact of future 911 outages, improve its processes for notifying 911 call centers of future outages, ensure reliable 911 call completion, and file regular compliance reports with the FCC.