×

Meet DirecTV’s New Boss: AT&T Chief Randall Stephenson

The architect of AT&T’s takeover of DirecTV is an Oklahoma native who first joined Ma Bell two years before the federal government broke up the telephone giant’s monopoly in 1984.

AT&T chairman-CEO Randall Stephenson is routinely described in press profiles as “easy-going” and low-key. His Sooner State lilt gives him a folksy accent compared to media execs rooted on the coasts. But Stephenson made it clear in a conference call with investors Monday to sell the $67 billion DirecTV takeover that he is no rube when it comes to evaluating the future of a fast-changing media landscape.

SEE ALSO: AT&T, DirecTV Merger Details Emerge as CEOs Sell Merger Benefits

“We think this is a very powerful combination,” he said, spelling out the plan to marry AT&T’s nationwide wireless networks with DirecTV’s national pay TV footprint. The combination of the assets and the executive brainpower that DirecTV brings to AT&T will enhance “the elegance and the beauty” of the “customer experience” AT&T can deliver across all manner of screens, he said.

Stephenson is a telco lifer who came up through the ranks of finance and marketing in an era when telephone services have seen exponential growth and change. Trained as a CPA, Stephenson joined the IT department of what was then one of AT&T’s “Baby Bells,” Southwestern Bell Telephone in Oklahoma City, in 1982. He moved on to posts in finance and corporate taxes, and by the early 1990s was overseeing finance for the Mexican operations of what by then had become SBC Communications.

By the time SBC bought a beaten-down AT&T in 2005 for $16 billion, Stephenson had gained experience in consumer marketing and exposure to the wireless revolution by serving as a director of Cingular Wireless and AT&T Mobility. He joined the board of AT&T following the SBC acquisition and was named CEO in 2007.

On Monday, Stephenson emphasized that AT&T has been taking major steps to expand its video capacity for years prior to pouncing on DirecTV, even though AT&T already bills itself as the “world’s largest telecommunications company” with $129 billion in revenue.

Indeed, in an interview with CNN after his promotion to CEO in 2007, Stephenson asserted: “IPTV is a multibillion revenue source for us.”

AT&T has a long regulatory road ahead before Stephenson will be able to make a meaningful mark on DirecTV. He sang the praises of the satcaster’s executive management team during the conference call, but it is clear that current CEO Michael White will step down once the deal is completed, giving Stephenson a chance to set the tone for the post-merger era with his choice of a leader.

SEE ALSO: Dish Will Turn Eyes to Wireless, After AT&T-DirecTV Strands It at Pay-TV Dance

In an interview last year with Leaders magazine, Stephenson further outlined his vision for why the telco giant needed to dive deeper into video — much more so than it has been able to do through its U-Verse service, which was handicapped by geographical limitations of AT&T’s wireline networks. Echoing sentiments he expressed during Monday’s call, Stephenson sees AT&T’s growing wireless platform as a springboard for new services. DirecTV and its showbiz connections will help accelerate those innovations — or so Stephenson hopes.

“Five years out, we believe the lion’s share of the traffic on our network will be driven by video. Specific services that will drive video consumption will include some that we bring to market, but the lion’s share will come from letting innovators create on top of our network infrastructure,” Stephenson told Leaders.

“We believe the best way to participate in innovation cycles is to open up our networks and turn the innovators loose, although we have an industry that has traditionally been averse to that. AT&T used to sell the telephone that was hardwired into the wall and that was the service you got. Then we opened up these networks and began to see innovation evolve and develop,” he said.

(Pictured: Randall Stephenson and then-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2011 when AT&T announced the installation of free wifi hotspots in 20 city parks.) 

More TV

  • Laurent Grévill (Ponte) Mathieu Amalric (JJA)

    Series Mania, MipTV’s Virtual Marketplace: A Few First Takeaways

    MipTV Online Plus ends on April 2. Series Mania’s Digital Forum on April 7. As virtual marketplace presentations foreseeably wind down, here area few first takes on the world’s first, and one hopes last, totally online business. More will be added shortly. Series Mania, MipTV Newsflow Weakens in a Virtual Market Yes, deals were announced [...]

  • Rashida Jones Given Oversight of MSNBC

    Rashida Jones Given Oversight of MSNBC Daytime Schedule

    Rashida Jones, an NBC News executive whose oversight of special programming has put her more in demand in recent months, has been placed in charge of MSNBC’s daytime schedule. Her appointment comes after she has organized several big-headline programs during a punishing news cycle that has included town-hall events, political debates and special reports centered [...]

  • Trixie Mattel

    Tom + Lorenzo's Book 'Legendary' Leaves No 'Drag Race' Sequin Unturned

    When viewers tune into to “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” most don’t understand that they are getting a weekly lesson on queer history. With “Legendary Children: The First Decade of RuPaul’s Drag Race and the Last Century of Queer Life,” which was released March 3 from Penguin Books, authors Tom Fitzgerald and Lorenzo Marquez give fans of [...]

  • Mediterráneo Returns to MipTV Drama Buyers

    Mediterráneo Returns to MipTV Drama Buyers Summit with Procedural 'Disappeared'

    Missing persons cop drama series “Desaparecidos, la serie” (“Disappeared”), produced in collaboration with César Benítez’s Plano a Plano, marks Mediterráneo’s return to MipTV Drama Buyers Summit, albeit in a virtual format. Mediterráneo, Mediaset España’s sales and distribution arm, brought to the 2019 edition dark comedy series “Señoras del (h)Ampa” (“Dangerous Moms”), which won the Coup [...]

  • Enslaved

    Afua Hirsch Talks Samuel L. Jackson Epix Summer Release ‘Enslaved’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    MGM premium TV service Epix announced Tuesday that it will exclusively premiere in the U.S. in summer 2020 the six-part docuseries “Enslaved,” executive produced by and featuring Samuel L. Jackson. Presented by Jackson and author (“Brit(ish”) and journalist Afua Hirsch, “Enslaved” will be aired on Canada’s CBC and the Documentary Channel from this fall — [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content