The DirecTV satellite TV service, it’s fair to say, has seen better days.
Even more than its rivals in the cable TV space, the satellite industry has been bleeding subscribers in recent years, as they take advantage of different and more convenient options.
AT&T, which (for now) is DirecTV’s owner, said at the end of the first quarter of this year that its pay-TV business lost 620,000 premium subscribers in the quarter. The division, which consists of DirecTV, AT&T U-Verse and AT&T TV, had lost 897,000 subscribers in the first quarter of 2020.
The company has since reached a deal to spin off the DirecTV business, although it will retain a partial ownership stake, a deal which entailed a substantial loss from when AT&T bought the service in 2016.
Why has DirecTV decline so quickly? There are several reasons.
It’s been replaced. There are now, needless to say, many more ways to get home entertainment today than there were a decade ago. There are streaming services and vMVPDs, both of which are in sectors that offer lots of competition. Much of this has caused DirecTV to become an also-ran.
Customers don’t want it. One analyst recently looked at why DirecTV has struggled so much- and one reason is that it’s no longer necessary in places where it once was.
“Probably the biggest long-term trend that bodes poorly for satellite TV is the federal government’s push to bring better broadband to rural America. Selling TV to customers with poor broadband is still the sweet spot for the two companies. As the number of homes with good broadband rises, the prospects for satellite TV sinks,” Doug Dawson of CGC Consulting recently wrote for CircleD.
Corporate owners don’t want it. AT&T bought DirecTV in 2016, and by 2020, it was trying to unload it. That began a selling process that dragged on for months, until the company ultimately agreed to spin off DireccTV into a separate entity, with private equity firm TPG buying about 30 percent of the new company.
That deal will close officially later this year, and it’s unclear whether it will lead to an unlikely revitalization of the brand, or another sale.
No more satellites. DirecTV, of course, is delivering via satellite. But AT&T announced in 2018 that the most recent DirecTV satellite launch will be it’s last.
Per Quartz, AT&T Communications’ CEO announced to analysts that year that the company was done launching new satellites, and that it wouldn’t replace old ones.
Losing Sunday Ticket. One of the remaining value propositions of DirecTV is that it carries exclusively on the NFL’s Sunday Ticket package, which makes every NFL game available to fans. DirecTV has had this exclusivity since its launch in 1994, but that expires after the 2022 season, and the NFL has indicated that it’s looking for a new home, possibly with a tech company like Amazon.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.