Many will have likely forgotten that AT&T acquired TCI for $48 billion dollars, the John Malone started cable MSO, back in 1998. They also acquired Media One a few years later for $44 billion. That was back in the day when cable was more of a patchwork quilt of service providers and Comcast was just starting to move towards world domination of the home entertainment world.
The AT&T team that bought TCI was smitten with the opportunity. The acquisition turned out to be a disaster for the telco as TCI was more of a back office operation with their cable systems that were hardly standardized on anything other than charging customers for the service.
After a few years AT&T realized that what they had didn't really align with their business and AT&T's cable business was sold off to Comcast for Comcast stock worth at the time 47 billion. In theory it was positioned as a merger of AT&T Broadband and Comcast, but what it really was for shareholders was a spin off and paid for what was a reverse stock split.
The merger, in an era where the DoJ, FCC, FTC and SEC were all still coming out of the 1984 divestiture period that had broken up the Bell System, didn't see the fact that what the cable guys were basically doing was rebuilding the Bell System while AT&T went off and did the wireless thing.
That's where the Direct TV merger/acquisition becomes like Deja Vu. Add in the Time Warner acquisition and you quickly realize that AT&T has no reason to be in the television related business sector, other than they have boatloads of cash and stock to issue. Satellite TV is declining. The exit, for Direct TV was like Malone's sale of TCI, well timed. The buy of Time Warner, and all its content as Time Warner had already sold off their cable division to Comcast further showed that AT&T has no idea how to be in the entertainment business. For what it's worth I helped launch AT&T's Cruisecast. It was a media success and a sales disaster as no one wanted to sell, let alone buy in car satellite TV. Qualcomm learned a similar lesson a few years later with their failed in car TV platform.
Basically with mobile and cable broadband getting so good, and bundles allowing for streaming, DirectTV and DISH are fighting for customer retention. Churn is growing, which is why Comcast and Charter both did their deal with Verizon for mobile services, but also know that mobile is their future.
For AT&T the plays with entertainment are about the next big thing. 5G. So just like with TCI, AT&T will eventually sell off their entertainment assets. And companies like a cash rich Murdoch Fox, Disney and Comcast will all be waiting with more cash, stock and the expertise to really do something with the conent assets, while some satellite company like ViaSat takes possession of the eventual space junk and earth stations to be part of the next wave of communications that ties together 5G networks on the signaling layer, not the media path.