The telecommunications industry has never been one to boast exciting news stories about high-flying growth companies or revolutionary changes. The talk of 5G is news, but is something that everyone knows will get here when it gets here, providing faster speeds than ever before -- the same story when 4G came into the picture.
There are bigger things than 5G when it comes to AT&T (NYSE:T). The merger with Time Warner is likely the most significant thing to happen in the wireless arena since the iPhone's debut. This is a colossal step forward that, I believe, is a flashing indicator of big changes coming.
Attaining wireless customers has always been competitive and for many years the spotlight has been on the the two big players in wireless: AT&T and Verizon (NYSE:VZ). Over the past few years, T-Mobile has made a big entrance onto the scene, but still has a ways to go to compete with the scale of the two giants. While Verizon continues to make acquisitions and spend to build and reinforce its current network dominance, AT&T is taking another route.
There's not a long list of services that are complementary to a wireless business. Internet service fit that mold and was quickly adopted by both AT&T and Verizon, offering mobile hot spots and internet for the home. Verizon has made several forays into other spaces, including with its acquisition of Yahoo!, which has provided a negligible addition to its core business. Along with that acquisition came the blogging website, Tumblr, which at one point was valued at over $1 billion. Verizon recently agreed to sell Tumblr to Wordpress' parent for $3 million. To say Verizon's venture outside the wireless space has been unsuccessful, would be an understatement.
Meanwhile, AT&T is going a different direction -- content. With the Time Warner acquisition, AT&T appears to be digging a deep moat against its chief rival.
Time Warner's collection of intellectual property is extensive. It holds the rights to TV titles including Friends and Game of Thrones, along with movies Wonder Woman and Dunkirk, to name a few. This content will be pivotal in launching its new streaming service, HBO Max, which is set to debut in the spring. Given this strong content library, HBO Max will be a strong contender in the fight for the household living room against services like Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Netflix, and Disney+.
I don't believe the streaming space will be a winner-take-all scenario; there is room for multiple services in the house. However, I don't think every household will have every service. I think there will likely be consolidation to perhaps two or three per home.
More details on the way
AT&T will host WarnerMedia Day on Oct. 29, where it will give more details about HBO Max, likely including the price point of the service. The company says it will launch with 10,000 hours of content, which is nothing to sneeze at.
A less talked-about service is AT&T TV, a broadband TV service that will be available nationwide in 2020. This will likely be a collection TV channels from AT&T's DIRECTV, and the newly acquired Time Warner collection, which includes channels CNN, TNT, Cartoon Network, and others.
This service, along with the upcoming HBO Max, should be a no-brainer add-on service for current AT&T customers. Convenience and simplicity are king.
All in all, I think that if you were to make a play in the wireless space, AT&T is the logical one to make. Verizon makes hay from its network and T-Mobile is known for its customer-friendly disruption, but AT&T is a company that is growing its list of options and business diversification quickly. The $85.4 billion AT&T paid in cash and stock for Time Warner was a hard pill to swallow, but the company continues to generate cash at a steady pace and is dedicated to its shareholders. A history of 35 consecutive dividend raises is not something it will give up easily.
AT&T is reinforcing itself strongly for the future with the diversity in content to stay relevant in a fast-changing wireless world.