— This is the script of CNBC's news report for China's CCTV on May 17, 2021, Monday.
AT&T is a telecommunication company, but its expansion into media content and distribution channels started several years ago. In 2018, AT&T acquired Time Warner for $85 billion, incorporating a number of well-known media brands such as Warner Bros. studio, HBO, and CNN into the parent company. Over the past few years, the media industry has undergone a huge transformation. A merger with Discovery means that AT&T is rethinking the 2018 acquisition and looking for breakthroughs for its media business.
One of the driving forces behind this merger is the struggle of traditional TV. The U.S. is one of the countries with the highest number of pay-tv subscribers worldwide. Cord-cutting has a particularly visible impact on the media landscape. Data from Statista show that the pay-tv penetration rate in the U.S. has dropped from 88 to 74 percent since 2010, and over 46 million U.S. households would end their subscription to pay-tv service.
The pandemic has accelerated the trend. Earlier this year, a survey by The Trade Desk predicted that 27% of U.S. households would cancel their pay-tv package by the end of the year, almost doubling the number of last year. It is reported that CNN's ratings have nearly halved since Donald Trump left office. Under the epidemic, the release and distribution of traditional movies have also been adversely impacted. For this reason, Warner Bros. announced last year to release movies directly on its streaming platforms, removing the theatrical window.
On the other hand, the number of subscribers to streaming services has surged during the pandemic. World-wide streaming subscriptions exceeded 1.1 billion last year, up from fewer than 400 million subscriptions in 2016, according to the Motion Picture Association. Among major American streaming platforms, Netflix ranks No. 1, with more than 200 million global subscribers, and it is closely followed by Disney+, with over 100 million users across the world. The competition for the third spot is extremely intense. Telecommunication companies like AT&T and Verizon, technology giants such as Amazon and Apple, and also traditional media conglomerates like ViacomCBS, which was born as a merger of Viacom and CBS in 2019 are all in the race. HBO Max and Discover+ have also shown their attractiveness. As of April, subscribers to Discover+ surpassed 15 million, and the total subscription of HBO MAX exceeded 44 million.
President and COO of AT&T and incoming CEO (Interview on May 27, 2020)
"Our goal, frankly, is not to be Netflix, our goal is to be something different. And there are other streaming services that are starting to show up in the market that clearly hit different needs for the customer. HBO Max is going to have a unique focus and a unique position with the customer. And we're going to play our game."
Of course, the competition is expensive, especially on content. Netflix plans to invest $17 billion this year in programming, and Disney isn't far behind. Amazon's spending on content hit $11 billion in 2020, up 41% from the year earlier. Consumer Technology Association projects that the total spending on streaming programming in 2021 will reach $112 billion in 2021. That's an increase of 11% over last year and a 31% increase over 2019.