|By Roger Brown, Publisher/Editorial Director,
“Is SBC suffering from analysis paralysis?”
My friend Steve is one of those guys who never seems to be able to make up his mind. He’s a nice guy, but he can’t make an important decision to save his life. You know the type–he’s the guy who mulls over options for so long that decisions usually end up being made for him, not by him.
You have to wonder if the same analysis paralysis applies to SBC Communications, which last month floated the idea that it might make a $10 billion bid for DBS provider DirecTV. Could it be that SBC has finally settled on a plan to compete with cable’s much-hyped (but rarely deployed) triple play, or is it just the latest video experiment by a telco?
At the time this column was written, most analysts and trade reporters were taking SBC to task for even suggesting such a takeover. They argue that acquiring DirecTV won’t add much to the bottom line. They say it complicates a deal SBC has with EchoStar (did anyone even know of the alliance?). In short, they wonder: what’s the point?
The history books tell us that SBC has already slammed the door shut on video–twice, in fact. When it acquired Pacific Telesis back in 1997, SBC took one quick look at the wireless MMDS system PacTel built in California and almost immediately scuttled the $200 million system. Then SBC bought Ameritech in 1999, and it was barely 18 months later when it decided its heart wasn’t in running the hybrid fiber/coax networks that were serving video to a few hundred thousand subscribers in the Midwest, so it sold those properties to WideOpenWest for pennies on the dollar.
So, why try the satellite approach, and why now?
Push has clearly come to shove. SBC is losing voice lines, and its revenues are sliding at an alarming rate. DSL subscriptions are picking up, but they’re costly to deploy. Regulatory relief is cloudy at best.
Making a satellite play gives SBC access to the video market, but doesn’t force it to spend untold tens of billions upgrading its facilities. It can own DirecTV and get to know the video business almost at an arm’s length. At long last, it can play gatekeeper (from a programming/content perspective) and increase the number of revenue streams (subscriptions and advertising).
Is it a marriage made in heaven? That’s doubtful–we all should know by now that mixing cultures isn’t easy or always successful. But can it work? Sure. But only if SBC avoids paying too much for DirecTV.
SBC must avoid a bidding war with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. over control of DirecTV. Murdoch is said to covet DirecTV and wants to play in North America. It’d be hard to bet against him.
I wonder what my friend Steve would do.