Look at this goddamn chart

WSJ infographic of ATT breakup and reformation from 1877 to present

There’s been a lot of excellent analysis and reporting about the proposed $86b AT&T / Time Warner merger in the days since the deal was announced, but this infographic from the Wall Street Journal really nails the fundamental insanity of the telecom industry. What started in 1877 as the original Bell Telephone Co turned into the great phone monopoly of AT&T, found itself broken up by the government in 1984, and has since slowly reconstituted itself as the massive duopoly of the modern AT&T and Verizon. At the same time, Warner sucked up Time Inc to become TimeWarner, merged with AOL in history’s most popular business punchline, un-merged, spun off Time Inc again, and is now being swallowed by AT&T while AOL is now part of Verizon.

There are a lot of arguments for and against these kinds of mergers, but I just keep looking at this chart and thinking: what did all this really accomplish? How many dollars of value and hours of effort have been sucked up inside these ill-fated remixes of content and infrastructure giants? How many good ideas died because these companies were spending time and money chasing these doomed integrations instead?

Wouldn’t we be better off if the content companies were competing to have their work widely distributed and earning revenue by capturing audience attention on their own merits, and the network companies were competing to deliver faster, more reliable service at lower prices? Instead it seems like AT&T and Verizon have decided that true competition in delivering service is too hard, and the better way to capture customers is by locking up content.

If you thought music streaming exclusives were bad, just wait until Comcast starts windowing SNL sketches to keep people on its pipes while AT&T only streams CNN to AT&T phones, while Verizon keeps wielding mobile access to NFL games like a club against the American consumer.

Look at that goddamn chart.

(Disclosure: Comcast owns NBC Universal, which has a minority stake in Vox Media, which owns The Verge.)


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