AT&T (T) - Get Report shares traded near the bottom of the S&P 500 Wednesday after the group unveiled a major revamp of its DirecTV Now streaming service and its CFO made some cautious comments on near-term earnings at an investor conference in Florida.
The Verge reported that AT&T will both dump previously offered channel bundles on DirectTV Now, while raising package prices to around $50 a month, as it looks to add HBO to its base plan. A so-called step-up package, at $70 a month, will include Cinemax and sports channels such as ESPN, the Verge reported.
The reports followed comments from AT&T CFO John Stephens, who reaffirmed the group's earnings guidance in a presentation at Deutsche Bank's Media, Internet and Telecom Conference in Palm Beach, Florida Tuesday, but noted that near-term numbers will fluctuate given the inclusion of WarnerMedia, following last year's $85.4 billion merger with Time Warner, and the changing nature of its mobility business.
"WarnerMedia was (10 cents a share) accretive in the fourth quarter ... I expect it to continue to be accretive throughout the year, but I will tell you that historically WarnerMedia's first and second quarter, because their NCAA and NBA contracts are followed by their two strongest quarters which are third and fourth," Stephens said.
"Secondly, we are coming off a tremendously strong fourth quarter for our mobility business, he added. "Most of you know the iPhone came out in the third quarter. We had a lot of sales in the phone in the third quarter."
"In the fourth quarter, for a launch quarter, we had a modest number of phone sales and we had tremendous service revenue growth for the second quarter in a row and we had growth in our margins," Stephens said.
AT&T shares were marked 1.11% lower by late-morning trading in New York, against a 1.08% gain for the broader S&P 500, and changing hands at $30.30 each, a move that trims the stock's 2019 gain to around 2.5%.
Earlier this year, AT&T posted solid fourth quarter 2018 earnings, with group revenues rising 14.7% to $48 billion, aid it added 134,000 new subscribers to its wireless telephone network paying a monthly bill, missing the FactSet compiled consensus of 208,000.
Zev Fima, however, research analyst for Jim Cramer's Action Alerts Plus charitable portfolio, thinks concerns over changes to DirectTV miss the mark and argues that content, not deliver systems, will separate rivals in the years ahead, while its consistent cash flows will easily support dividend payouts in the meantime.
"I often feel like the only guy in this corner, but I'm pretty bullish on the opportunity AT&T has set itself up for," Fima noted. "Data consumption is going to rapidly increase over the next decade and on the entertainment front, it's well known by now that content is king."
"When I look at the content portfolio AT&T has built up in recent years including HBO and Warner Brothers, which brings along Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, the DC Entertainment and more, I can't help but see this company becoming a dominant player in the streaming space over time," he added.