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Here's why AT&T is buying Time Warner: Slowing phone growth

AT&T quietly releases its third-quarter results that show customers are leaving right after announcing its mega-merger deal with Time Warner.

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Maybe AT&T can offer a free HBO Now subscription to every wireless customer.

That might help reverse the company's flagging growth in its core wireless phone business, as illustrated in its third-quarter results (PDF). They were released shortly after AT&T confirmed it would purchase media company Time Warner for $85.4 billion.

Perhaps Time Warner will put a spring in AT&T's step, because the telecommunications giant's consumer wireless business isn't helping. AT&T lost 268,000 postpaid phone customers, postpaid customers, or those who pay at the end of the month and tend to be more loyal.

Including the tablet business, it added 50,000 total postpaid customers. Last year, the company added 289,000 postpaid customers.

Like Verizon, AT&T has suffered from more aggressive moves by smaller carriers T-Mobile and Sprint. The result for consumers has been a bonanza of half-off deals and programs offering freebies, but the results have been less jolly for the nation's two biggest carriers. Verizon on Thursday said it lost postpaid subscribers in the same period.

AT&T also lost 316,000 reseller accounts thanks to its pending shutdown of its 2G network on January 1. The company has 4 million 2G subscribers and believes there will be a significant uptick in turnover in the fourth quarter.

Both AT&T and Verizon have pursued media companies as they grapple with slowing growth in wireless. While Verizon has acquired AOL and will buy Yahoo, AT&T has made bigger bets on DirecTV and now Time Warner.

In total, AT&T posted a third-quarter net profit of $3.3 billion, or 54 cents a share, up from $3 billion, or 50 cents a share, a year ago. Adjusted per-share earnings were 74 cents a share.

Revenue rose 4.6 percent to $40.9 billion.

Analysts, on average, forecast earnings of 74 cents a share and revenue of $41.15 billion, according to Yahoo Finance.

Updated at 7:24 p.m. PT: To include updated customer numbers.