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Bidders line up for AT&T DirecTV satellite division

AT&T has received at least three offers – some of which exceeded $15 billion – for its troubled satellite division DirecTV, which it acquired for nearly $50 billion in 2015.

Among the bidders are the private equity firm Apollo Global Management, which was previously seen as a frontrunner but has valued the division at slightly less than $15 billion, and Churchill Capital Corporation IV, which is a specialist acquisition company set up by former Citigroup banker Michael Klein.

The deal could be announced early in 2022. The offers include taking on DirecTV's debt.

The division was hit by the "cord-cutting" trend, with the most recent tally of customers 7 million lower than in 2017. In the third quarter, revenues for AT&T's pay-TV business fell by 10% to $10.1 billion.

The poor performance of the acquisition has attracted comment both from activist investors and from the public. AT&T paid $49 billion, and also took on $17 billion of DirecTV's debt.

AT&T CEO John Stankey
Stankey, who took over in July, seeks to unwind some of AT&T's less successful acquisitions made by his predecessor Randall Stephenson. 
(Source: Kevin Moloney/Fortune Brainstorm TECH via Flickr.)
Stankey, who took over in July, seeks to unwind some of AT&T's less successful acquisitions made by his predecessor Randall Stephenson.
(Source: Kevin Moloney/Fortune Brainstorm TECH via Flickr.)

Large activist fund Elliott Management, which bought a $3.2 billion stake in AT&T in September and subsequently exited, said AT&T had bought the company at the "absolute peak of the linear TV market."

"How to lose $52 billion in six years: the AT&T DirecTV story," said a Twitter user.

DirecTV's Latin American business was spun into a new company called Vrio, which does not form part of the sale.

AT&T considered an IPO for this business in 2017 to reduce AT&T's debt load when it purchased Time Warner, though it decided against it in April 2018.

Rather than devoting resources to retaining customers for DirecTV, AT&T seems to have bowed to the inevitable and invested in its streaming services instead.

HBO and chill

Chief Executive John Stankey, who took over in July, has been trying to unwind some of the less successful acquisitions made by his predecessor Randall Stephenson.

Also announced today was the $1.175 billion sale to Sony of Crunchyroll, a streaming service that calls itself the world's largest collection of anime.

"There is so much value to be extracted from Crunchyroll by just replacing their current barely functioning website with a well built website," one engineer commented on Twitter.

Possibly also up for the chop down the road could be Xandr, a digital advertising service.

AT&T is less eager to sell CNN, though it has received offers for the news service. It also appears inclined to hold on to Warner's gaming division after weighing putting it on the block as well.

The new chief executive has also sought to steer the company more in the direction of pay-TV and media.

The acquisition of Time Warner for $85 billion last year formed a key part of this new attempt to remake the telecoms company into a media and technology giant.

In particular, AT&T is hoping to build its streaming service HBO Max, which launched in May and currently has 12.6 million users, into a rival for Netflix.

But COVID-19 shuttering the studios has staunched the flow of new Westeros-level content onto the platform.

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— Padraig Belton, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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