AT&T's DirecTV losses mount as it adds new wireless customers

AT&T beats analysts' earnings expectations as it manages a complicated mix of businesses and awaits the launch of its HBO Max streaming service.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
2 min read
Robert Alexander/Getty Images

AT&T continues to bleed pay-TV customers as it prepares to launch a new streaming service that will have tons of competition. But on the bright side, its wireless business is looking up in the face of tough competition. 

On Wednesday, the Dallas-based company reported that it lost 945,000 satellite TV and U-verse TV subscribers in the fourth quarter of 2019. Its AT&T TV Now service also lost 219,000 subscribers in the quarter.

In total, AT&T lost 4 million subscribers in 2019, ending the year with 20.4 million pay TV subscribers in the US.

The steep losses underscore the challenge the company faces as cord-cutters leave it for streaming services like Netflix. They also put pressure on AT&T as it prepares to launch its HBO Max streaming service this spring amid a crowded market. The $15 monthly price tag is on the high end of streaming services, and it's unclear whether customers will subscribe. 

Meanwhile, AT&T added 229,000 postpaid mobile phone subscribers during the fourth quarter, which beat analysts' expectations of 145,000 new subscribers, according to the research firm FactSet. Postpaid customers pay their bills at the end of the month and so are highly valued. The growth in phone subscribers comes as the company bundles its premium HBO service with phone service. 

Meanwhile, the carrier said it lost 20,000 prepaid customers. 

Revenue in the fourth quarter fell to $46.82 billion compared with $47.99 billion a year earlier. Analysts had expected AT&T's revenue to come in at $47 billion. But cost-cutting helped the company offset its steep TV subscriber losses. And it actually topped analysts' expectations for earnings

AT&T said adjusted earnings for the fourth quarter were 89 cents per share, compared with analysts' expectations of 87 cents per share.

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