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AT&T, Inc. (NYSE:T)

42nd Annual J.P. Morgan Global Technology, Media and Telecom Conference Call

May 21, 2014 08:40 AM ET

Executives

John Stephens - Chief Financial Officer

Analysts

Phil Cusick - JPMorgan

Phil Cusick - JPMorgan

All right. Let's get started. My name is Phil Cusick, I cover Telecom and Cable here at JPMorgan. I want to introduce John Stephens, CFO of AT&T. For those who haven't met John yet he has been the CFO of AT&T since 2011 and prior being named a CFO, he is SVP and Controller since 2001 of the company since 1992. John has a couple of things he wants to say and then we'll kick off.

John Stephens

Thanks Phil and good morning everyone. I maybe call your attention to our standard Safe Harbor statement before we begin. We will probably say some things or make some comments today that will be forward-looking as such they are subject to risk and uncertainty, our actual results may differ materially and you can look for additional information on this at our website and/or on DirecTV's website and our SEC filings.

So if I could, let me start we're going straight to the biggest piece of the week release for AT&T and DirecTV and that's our plans to acquire DirecTV. This is a big step in creating what we believe is a unique new competitor in our industry. The transaction combines are very complementary stings with unprecedented in capabilities, in mobility, in video and the broadband services and allows us to do things together that need a robust could do separately. At combine we have a rare opportunity to redefine the industry by offering the bundles, delivering content across multiple screens.

First and foremost DirecTV is a strong company with tremendous assets and I want to emphasize that they are the premier company in the industry. They have got a great brand, they have got a great customer base, they have got a best in class network and they have got wonderful people, skilled people who will be a great addition and a needed addition to our AT&T team. Well, DirecTV is a great company all by itself together with AT&T, we believe we can accelerate growth and do things and make investments that we would not otherwise be able to do.

Now just people me make sure clear, this transaction builds on our project velocity IP, our expansion of LT broadband, our expansion of wired broadband, our transformation or customer base from all you can [aid] to a tiered data or usage base program, all of that has built up to this point and we’re going to continue that with more opportunities to expand and enhance broadband with 15 million new customer locations. Lastly, we’re able to do this because we’ve got a strength of a balance sheet. You guys have seen the ratings news, we’re going to be able to retain our A rating. We feel that’s important. We feel that’s a competitive advantage, not only today in transactions like this but in the coming years as we go through spectrum auctions, specifically our industry and our abilities to act in those.

Lastly, we’re very excited about this new business opportunity. We look forward to getting through the regulatory process to getting this transaction closed in the last 12 months.

One last comment folks, I am CFO of a very large cell phone company, telecommunications company, and wireless company. We’re looking for all the revenues we can get. One of the businesses we operate is mobility business and some people generate those revenues for us by texting and driving. We don’t need those revenues, don’t need any of them. Don’t text and drive, the life you could be saving maybe your own or quite frankly or the people in this room. We’re serious about it. We put a lot of our efforts behind it and we take it as a very important message, even to take this time today during this very important meeting to point it.

So, thank you. Phil, I’ll turn it back over to you.

Question-and-Answer Session

Phil Cusick - JPMorgan

Thanks John. So congratulations on getting the DTV done.

John Stephens

Thank you.

Phil Cusick - JPMorgan

I appreciate you’re working through the weekend, so we can talk about it here.

John Stephens

Yes.

Phil Cusick - JPMorgan

And…

John Stephens

That was the goal, Phil.

Phil Cusick - JPMorgan

Well this is important, as you said. So talk to us about process of the deal. I think there were discussions with DIRECTV some years ago and they didn’t quite get over the line. What was different this time? What really drove you to do the transaction today?

John Stephens

Yes. So, I’d just say this way, first and foremost, it’s the premier band, it’s got the premier assets, it’s got the premier network, it’s got the premier customer base, premier content costs. This is a unique opportunity for us to take advantage there as we’ve gone through the last few years of our transformation with VIP and built out our networks to be video first to have 4G, LTE out there at 300 million pops to have extensive broadband and extensive fiber out into our networks. We have seen the opportunity and believe now is uniquely positioned for us to do this. We’ve also got a customer base where we have seen the desire to have broadband, we’ve seen the desire to utilize our wireless networks, and we’ve got a -- we’re positioned now to take advantage there. So this video first network that we have built is now ready to take on the opportunities that DTV provides us.

Phil Cusick - JPMorgan

Okay. And you plan to expand broadband by 15 million locations which we think about that mostly has consumers and how do you think about the technology, if you not want to talk about the mix then the different options that could...

John Stephens

So we think about manly it’s consumer, I would say mainly it’s probably going to be over indexed to rule that are probably over indexed to out of our traditional footprint. And I think about it in the technology standpoint where we will include some fiber, bringing these two companies together the economics allows us to make these additional investments. We wouldn’t be able to make these without bringing the two companies together. But I would think about some fiber, I would think fixed wireless local loop. I think quite frankly we will look at other technology opportunities once -- I know about today, once they come up in the next coming years as the things continue to develop. So we are comfortable about the 15 million number and believe that the transaction provides us the opportunity to do that. Also tell you based on the post transactions expectations, these $15 million appear to have good solid return on investments and of their own if you have the transaction economics.

Phil Cusick - JPMorgan

So just to clarify, you said out of the traditional footprint, is that out of AT&T’s traditional?

John Stephens

Traditional will be 21 state, footprint and out of the currently wired VIP build, the 57 million high speed, but also outside of our 21 states. We are the local exchange incumbent carrier.

Phil Cusick - JPMorgan

A decent portion outside of your traditional [effort]?

John Stephens

Yes.

Phil Cusick - JPMorgan

Okay, good. And in order free up the copper lines for existing U-verse customers, will some people need to be pushed over to the satellite sites?

John Stephens

Customers can have their choice, they want to stay on the U-verse then they absolutely could be able to keep that or this transaction’s not based on freeing up an either wired capacity. I would say we are getting 45 megs, these are U-verse footprint today, and our customers are happy, we are getting very good response from them.

If you will they are voting with their feed to stay with us, if you will we have plans for 75 megs and higher, so our U-verse speeds is doing really well, and we have got great capacity there. What I will tell you is this gives the customers those optionality and that’s what’s great, we will continue to support the satellite also. So it’s going to be a choice perspective for us that’s best for customers.

Phil Cusick - JPMorgan

Okay. And the linear video business has been flattening call it, some people would say declining in the last year or so how do you get comfortable with sustainability of DTPs business and grossing up into that?

John Stephens

Couple of things, one we have seen growth quite frankly in linear business, if you can follow in our quarters we've been adding 200,000 U-verse customers a quarter for some time. So we’ve actually seen growth in that. Secondly, when you look at where we look at the business, we're seeing a lot of over the top in addition to the linear TV model. So, we're seeing customers buy a lot of both. Third to be really effective in that over the top space and then provide those customers that optionality leading to important, have great content relationships and great content management team and we're certainly going to get both of those in this transaction when you combine our two companies, we'll certainly have that. So this gives us great optionality.

For the over the top, while we still believe there is a lot of runway to the linear TV business.

Phil Cusick - JPMorgan

Should we expect to fairly swift reduction in AT&T's legacy programming cost to down the DTV and how big do you think the delta is?

John Stephens

I think, I'll say this. On the synergies, we're looking about 1.6 billion run rate in the third year, we'll establish that run rate in the third year after the close of transaction, with run rate that fairly make a great point. Those synergies can be as much about AT&T's reduced legacy costs as they are about DirecTV's costs being reduced, but frankly we expect to keep the headquarters. We will keep the headquarters in (inaudible) the California, we need the resources they have, if they combined opportunity to reduce cost; not just content, but also things like billing, administrative services, client firm costs, set top box development, programming and development strategy cost, advertising. So, we feel we're good about our opportunities to realize that.

Phil Cusick - JPMorgan

Okay. And you mentioned over the top, as you have a national video platform and national wireless platform and increasing the thing and going out of your traditional 21 states with rural wireless. Is there an opportunity for more of an over the top platform for video something that is both the complement to what people may have out of state and then maybe even alternative?

John Stephens

So I think that’s simply this way, the content -- on a combined basis, we'll go to the content guys and the one new factor is that we've got 60 million or so tablets and postpaid smartphone customers and right now we've got 10 million broadband customers high speed, high quality broadband, who don't get subscription video from AT&T. So we're going to go to them with an opportunity for 70 million new customers.

So having an ability to negotiate and work with them to come up with some alternatives and over the top solutions, I think is a natural and I do believe I think it provides real creditability to our argument about working on a positive sense going forward and creating something. That’s something unique that nobody else can do, nobody else has that with the broadband capabilities, with the wireless capabilities and then with this sale like video platform. We will be the only one will be unique and that will be a national force.

Phil Cusick - JPMorgan

There’s been a lot of headlines in the last couple of days since the deal was announced about the NFL. It sort of, it’s one question about the NFL in particular and how important it is. But also how much can you work together with DTV between now and the close, if they negotiate a deal, are you involved there and how can I think about you and them?

John Stephens

Yes. So as you guys probably expect, we're going to operate our two separate companies and fulfill our fiducial and legal responsibilities on a separate company basis as we go forward and we are both committed to that. With regard to the NFL, I was, I think you all have seen the comments made just the last few days by some of the league officials. They’ve been very complimentary of DIRECTV, they’ve been very complimentary of relationship and they’ve talked about the fact that they’re in the process of discussing a number of matters with them. So that’s all very encouraging when the NFL -- content is important, it is unique, it is premier and quite frankly a combined company, once combined has the unique opportunity to offer the NFL something that no other company can provide, mainly those hundreds of millions of opportunities whether they be cell line, whether they be broadband, whether they be wireless whether they be tablets in any variety. So it’s a very interesting opportunity I would than any of the content provider specifically some of the sports teams would really find interesting.

Phil Cusick - JPMorgan

Okay. And how much is particularly on that deal as DIRECTV negotiates that deal with the NFL, can they consider you or does that really something we have to wait until the deal is closed?

John Stephens

Yes. I think Phil they’re going to have to -- DIRECTV is going to be responsible for negotiating that deal. And I think we’ll leave it there. As I said we’re going to have operator our companies separately. We’re respectful of the regulators, we’re respectful of the process and certainly we’re little up to our fiduciary and give responsibilities to our shareholders.

Phil Cusick - JPMorgan

Okay. And the other big question I think some people had is that you didn’t go after DISH and that sort of leads into the spectrum question as well. How do you think about DTV versus DISH and then your plans for spectrum auctions over the next few years?

John Stephens

So premier distribution system, premier network, premier content, premier customers, premier people, there are all of those questions, are all on one side, they’re all answered with DIRECTV. All those questions get answered with DIRECTV that’s why company like AT&T was so attracted to DIRECTV and that’s first and foremost.

Secondly, when you look at some of the other issues, DISH has been very loud about their intentions to get into broadband. From a regulatory perspective, bringing the company that either is or intends to be a broadband together with another broadband company would likely raise additional regulatory scrutiny. Secondly, DISH has a lot of spectrum. They have made comments and public statements about their intention to use that. That spectrum would be likely to raise additional regulatory questions and scrutiny, particularly at a time when we have a couple of FCC spectrum auctions scheduled and the importance of all participants available bidding in that seems to be a goal of the administrative authorities.

So it just would seem that there would be a lot of regulatory challenges and additional scrutiny from an alternate transaction. But going back to it, premier assets; premier network; premier content; and premier people all get you to one answer in this discussion and that’s DIRECTV.

Phil Cusick - JPMorgan

Okay. And then on the auction side, how do you think about both AWS and broadcast? And you filed last week willing to [suspend] as much as $9 billion or commitment to spend $9 billion, willingness to bid in the broadcast auction. How do you think about the relative importance of those two auctions and where as AT&T in spectrum?

John Stephens

Yes. So we feel really good where we are at with spectrum. Now, as you can see we have done a lot of activity over the last few years, probably over 60 deals. And quite frankly I think people give [thoughts] and people just as Cricket Leap transaction that we disclosed in March provide us a significant additional amount of spectrum. So from that perspective for today and in the near future we feel very good. With that being said, we have always been pleased with the spectrum we bought and we certainly look forward to participating not only in the AWS-3 but in the broadcast spectrum. The really critical observation for us is that we believe that auctions will be competitive and we believe the strong balance sheet, particularly in our industry, a strong balance sheet is going to be real competitive advantage in that bidding process. So we feel like we’re positioned real well and we look forward to participating.

Phil Cusick - JPMorgan

Okay. And one more on the wireline side before a switch to wireless. GigaPower, I love the name similar to that new cable 1 gig plan. But talk to us about the GigaPower markets and what that means for AT&T, what do those markets look like, what is the incremental spending and the return on that?

John Stephens

The market I can talk about right now is Austin, where went in and we are able to do what I call efficient build and targeted build, success based build, with some of the, for us new, straight line permitting right away [ease in] processes. All we’ve seen is great adoption by our customers of high speed products, high satisfaction, some of the best NPS scores, net promoter scores, we’ve seen a real acceptance and desire and appreciation for the product.

After that experience and we’ve done this in just the course of kind of an eight to ten months cycle. After seeing that, we have decided that we would take a look at other markets and quite frankly, because we had plans to put more U-verse out there, deciding to accelerate, so to speak the announcement of our willingness to do GigaPower. So, we could redirect the U-verse dollars to GigaPower and be efficient that way, if you will just jump from the historic technology or assets we have to GigaPower as opposed in one step, as oppose to doing in 2 first going to U-verse and then going to GigaPower. So, quite frankly the process we will go through now is about efficient capital deployment and making those changes once.

And we work by the cities, we've got certainly Dallas, that we've already announced plans to expand and a couple of other cities and we will look to negotiate for streamline processes that most companies have, right, so way easements permitting and then a success based build perspective that really makes the critical impact on return on investment.

Phil Cusick - JPMorgan

How is the conversation with cities different today than it was five years or 10 years ago when you were starting to build U-verse?

John Stephens

I think the biggest perspective is there is a change in the view of us and of them that they are really desiring for this service and for this quality service, for as many of their citizens as possible as opposed to being willing to deny to citizens unless someone’s willing just to build the capabilities to everybody.

And secondly it is a realization on the economics that building it everywhere doesn't make an economic sense and a company cannot afford to do that. And so the cities realization of that makes things much easier to get things going and move forward with it. It's really helped us. And to some extent some of the other participants in the industry, [of cause] that happen, so they don't have the legacy regulatory relationships that we have. So from that perspective things are proceeding well.

Phil Cusick - JPMorgan

Let’s switch over the wireless for a few minutes. And talking me about competition, there is a lot of chatter about the industry being in a price for. How do you view that and how do you feel about that competitive level today?

John Stephens

Yes. We have been in competition for long time our industry, there are some good competitors out there, but that's nothing new. Secondly, it was a noisy first quarter, but if you look at our results, 625,000 postpaid net adds and churn 1.07, but 4 basis points lower than the fourth quarter. So in a very noisy quarter, we feel pretty good, feel very good about our performance. We believe we have the capabilities to compete that the great quality network that is table stakes to serve your customers, it is really important and we've got that.

With regard to pricing, we view what we've done is a shift not an increase or a decrease, but a shift. And really what we're doing is saying if you want to pay for your handset directly and make the choices and make the economic choices based on not a $200 hour co-pay, but rather what the phones really cost we will be willing to give you the service or for what the service pricing is without that handset subsidy and we're seeing customers really love that transparency, that’s just a shift that’s going to make our results lumpy as we see more and more of our customers, a quarter of our postpaid customers chose to go to the no subsidy plan. So it will impact our service revenues in the second quarter and throughout the year. But quite frankly those customers did it based on the fact that they're not going to get a subsidy on their phone. And so whether that happens in the second quarter or where we usually have more upgrades in the third and fourth quarter and when you see it there that financial impact, that economic impact will balance out for us and we believe customers will make better choices and more inform choices and manage the process better than we can.

Phil Cusick - JPMorgan

So, the speed of that trade down that we saw in the first quarter which I think you’re alluding to, I think it’s concerned investors very much and your argument is what have happened over the next couple of quarters eventually and this isn’t so bad, is that fair interpretation?

John Stephens

Yes. I think about it this way, we will give it a $15 or so depending upon the customer could be $5 discount, depending upon some other customers that might be very rarely going to size 20. So you usually use the number of about a $15 a month discount but if you think about what a subsidy cost and some of them is upgrading their phone every 24 months, 15 bucks for 24 months is $360. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether our subsidies per handset are higher or lower than that, what you can see that is just a shift and really we believe we’ll get that back.

And quite frankly customer growth as everybody saw in the 625,000 postpaid net adds, and improvement in churn and quite frankly what people are often realized is we have got this acceleration going on so everybody is jumping into LTE devices, they’re jumping into mobile share, value plans so they’re buying 10 gig packages to qualify for this, a lot of people buy insurance on their handsets when they buy them themselves when they do it from the land subsidy plan so buying insurance. So it’s the whole lot of opportunities. Not to mention people [buying a lot of] tablets along with these 10 gig plans. So we feel really good about it. It will be lumpy as we go through this year because the service pricing will come in many cases before the subsidy savings as you all know follow us for years our subsidy costs are generally much higher than fourth quarter. And therefore going on a non-subsidy plan you would expect to see most the savings coming in the fourth quarter even though we are starting to give customer today the benefit of that. They are good customer they have been with us a long time, they pay us like clockwork, it’s okay to treat them just like as well as you treat a new customer. We are not embarrassed by that, we think that’s the right way to do it.

Phil Cusick - JPMorgan

And you took real share in the -- I mean going to open it up for questions in minute so if you have a question just for the microphone. But you took real share in the first quarter not only with including tablets, but excluding tablets. We have seen some responses in April. Do you feel like that that share you took in the first quarter is; one, sustainable; and two, can grow given the actions you’ve taken?

John Stephens

Let me say this, we are going to talk about it, the results through, post first quarter, but I will say this, as we went through the quarter as we went from January to February and February to March we saw improvements in customer growth, in churn and in all kinds of the quality aspects the satisfaction aspects with regards to our customers and we believe and we’re committed to transforming this part of the industry and part of the process the best way I could tell you is we had 1 million unlimited customers voluntarily shift to tier data plans to take advantage of this. So we are getting all kinds of positive benefits. But yes Phil in a nutshell we still believe that this is the right way to go and we have a continued commitment to it. This is part of the transformation that our project velocity and our other strategies allow. And one of the reasons why the DirectTV transaction is so exciting because now everybody is on tier data programs and as we provide that video first network which we have the usage opportunities for our mobility business are significant.

Phil Cusick - JPMorgan

If you have any questions, please go to the mic. Let’s switch to Latin America for few minutes. AT&T has had a long standing relationship with AMX, now exiting that stake and entering Latin America in a big way. Help us think about the trade-off between those, what do you lose from the AMX relationship and what you really gain in DTV’s LatAm business?

John Stephens

Yes. So great relationship with America Movil and Telmex International over the year and I say out the board, as board representative for our company for about four years, so I have a personal relationship, they have high regard for the people and the organization down there. This is first and foremost a statement to the regulatory authorities on the transaction specifically in Latin American countries. We wanted to if you will make sure there was still even perception of conflict. And so that’s why we resigned our board seats on Monday. And that’s why we have announced we’re going to go off the equity accounting and so forth, so that is one aspect.

Second aspect is, if you look at DIRECTV’s Latin American operations, they have almost as many customers there as they do in United States. We have taken a new account their equity ownership and their [Mexican] operations, they have about 18 million customers, it’s the fastest growing and they seem to be doing in really unique ways at least from our perspective some prepaid business growth and some new opportunities, self installs and so forth.

So we are very excited about that opportunity. We have seen this opportunity grow before with our wireless experience in Latin America, so we know what the potential is. Long term we feel very good about. The additional point though is that we bring skills to this environment because we have wireless, fixed wireless local loop capabilities and we believe that we will be able to add value to those existing operations from some of those skill sets that we bring.

So we are very committed to, very excited about, we think it’s a great opportunity for real long-term growth. By the same token, it’s 18 million customers today, so it’s not a small operation.

Phil Cusick - JPMorgan

No, and I think it's not only the existing video business, but I would think the potential to add other businesses around that. How do you think about growing? What does DTV have today as an asset and what could be created over time?

John Stephens

I think DTV like in the United States, let’s say it this way. If you think about what's going on in the United States, we have 2,300 retail stores, about 60% of them; we don’t sell a video product. So, once the transaction closes, we’re going to start the video product the next day out of those retail stores.

We between us, we probably have a total of 10,000 distribution points and today we sell each other’s products. That's a huge growth opportunity. That goes the same in Latin America where they have this existing base of customers, this existing base of yes video, but also spectrum and licenses in some cases and we can come in and bring our expertise and our relationships as we do a lot of enterprise business throughout Latin America and South America. So, we believe it's the same kind of opportunity where combined we’re much -- have an opportunity to be much more successful and much more of a unique competitor.

Phil Cusick - JPMorgan

And what's your comfort level with one, the currency side of that; and two, the macro side of the Latin American business?

John Stephens

I think on the currency side, it's something you just have to watch every day, be careful, be prudent, do what you can to mitigate your risk and be measured; something we've been through before, something I think the DIRECTV team, actually both of these team has been very good at and very careful about. So, certainly is this something to pay attention to? Absolutely. Do I have all the answers? Certainly not, but believe that there is a real process in place to manage it prudently.

On the Latin America growth opportunities, I think this is a better opportunity to grow the many parts of the country, many parts of the planet. And while many of the countries are going through challenges today, on a long-term basis, there seems to be great opportunities to expand penetration, to expand markets and to further grow the business. So, we feel really good about the long-term opportunities.

Phil Cusick - JPMorgan

Good. There is a question here.

Unidentified Analyst

I was just wondering if you could discuss I guess going forward the future video product that you have and the competitiveness in that particular space. And then currently, how do you price your U-verse product, is that nationally or locally and why is that the approach?

John Stephens

So first on a combined basis, while we would expect to continue to deliver the video product both with U-verse technology, IP technology, wire technology and satellite, think about that fact that if you would look at our two offerings and be able to take the best of both and add them to the other. That is simply the services opportunity and the content opportunity to take the best of both and put them together to make both products better. We're certainly -- have the opportunity to make a lot of the content better.

Secondly, we have opportunity to streamline maybe the set-top box development costs from my perspective or the quality or the user interface by bringing those two together and taking advantage quite frankly leveraging the talent and skills of both of our companies have but that is really accomplished. So bringing that together is certainly, particular the set in that area is one plus one equals more than two. So that’s how we’d expect it. I am sorry I didn’t catch the second piece of the question.

Unidentified Analyst

The U-verse product currently, do you price that nationally or locally and why is that approach?

John Stephens

I am sorry. Do we…?

Unidentified Analyst

Do you price it on a national basis?

John Stephens

We price it on a market basis but remember our U-verse product; I would not consider today a national product in the sense that DIRECTV has 115 million or so, approximately 115 million homes they can serve in the U.S. while we’re in 28 million range with our U-verse, So it’s a more concentrated more, directed more market area approach.

Unidentified Analyst

Thank you.

John Stephens

Sure.

Phil Cusick - JPMorgan

We’re running out of time. But let me just follow-up on that real quickly. The U-verse revenue base really accelerated in the first quarter. And talk about the drivers of that both on the pricing and then the penetration side. You recently opened up some new markets. So, is it legacy markets or new, are they both accelerating?

John Stephens

Broadband is growing great if you look at our U-verse numbers over the last probably six quarters, we’ve added about 600,000 high-speed broadband every quarter. So, broadband has been very successful. We’ve been adding IP video, about 200,000 a quarter for more than a year. That’s been very successful. But as we pointed out in the first quarter’s earnings release, video side has been pressured by content cost and retransmission fees. That was part of our presentation in the first quarter. So, the real attractive is to our existing customer base is that real growth in broadband. And when you’re growing 600,000 in that high-speed a quarter, you’re certainly migrating some of your legacy DSL customers to that but you are also taking and competing in the marketplace against all the other providers and winning on a regular basis.

We’ve now converted close to 70% of our legacy broadband base to these high-speed products. So we’ve been able to compete really well. Broadband is what we excel at and it’s what we will be able to bring to the table. The economics of our video products will definitely be -- expect to be improved by bringing together DIRECTV and ourselves and that’s what’s going to enable the additional broadband deployment.

Phil Cusick - JPMorgan

Good. Thanks John congratulations again on a DTV deal.

John Stephens

Thank you all, have a good day.

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