AT&T, a company that not long ago slept with the fishes, ruled the stock market on Tuesday.
Company shares spiked 4% on twice normal volume after the company told investors at a Gotham conference that its phone-based U-Verse TV service is a serious growth engine. The nation’s largest telco said U-Verse will have 1 million subscribers by the end of 2008 and be available in 30 million homes by 2010, potentially generating billions in new revenue.
Led by Randall Stephenson, who was appointed chairman and chief exec in July, execs announced a major expansion of U-Verse into the Southeast. The company just added the St. Louis market and said it is adding about 10,000 subscribers a month and will invest $4.5 billion-$5 billion by the end of 2008.
Even so, AT&T has only about 260,000 TV subscribers, and the forecast of 30 million is a far cry from getting millions to actually sign up. But telcos’ higher-speed offerings are certainly noteworthy — along with the competitive pressures on cable from satellite and their own high-definition TV limitations.
In the Northeast, Verizon has disrupted the growth trajectories of Time Warner and Cablevision, which have taken to airing blunt TV ads trying to undercut Verizon’s rapidly scaling Fi-os service.
AT&T’s Tuesday presentation also differed starkly from cable’s outlook in that it isn’t feeling the squeeze from a slowing economy.
Last week Comcast cited a weaker economy and consumer anxieties about spending in announcing a downward revision to its forecasts. Revenue-producing units — a measure of the number of services ordered by customers — are expected to drop by 6 million, and expenses are rising faster than the company expected.
Several analysts have downgraded Comcast, the nation’s No. 1 cable company, whose shares shed another 3% Tuesday to close at $17.78, a new 52-week low.
The new presence of AT&T has followed a gradual resurrection of the brand. It was reborn after San Antonio, Texas-based SBC Communications bought AT&T in 2005 and renamed itself. The company then merged with BellSouth to become the largest telco in the U.S.
Showbiz vets recall AT&T as an entertainment player in the 1990s, notably, its ill-fated $48 billion alliance with John Malone. It is worth noting that in that era, it was also popular to say that phone companies would dictate the flow of TV content — a trend that didn’t pan out.
(John Dempsey contributed to this report.)