The TV Answer Man!

AT&T Plans to Launch Another TV Service? Another One?!

If you weren’t confused about AT&T’s long-range vision for television, you might be now.

Company CEO Randall Stephenson said today that AT&T will launch a wireless-based TV service over a Broadband network late this year or early 2018, writes Telecompetitor.com. 

Yeah, that’s right. AT&T already offers DIRECTV Now, a live streaming service that delivers dozens of channels over the Internet. But Stephenson said this new venture would be available via a specific wireless network. (DIRECTV Now can be accessed on any Internet service.)

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Stephenson did not say if the wireless network will be AT&T’s or one from another company.

“We will be ambivalent as to whose broadband,” Stephenson said, according to Seeking Alpha, the financial site. “(It’s)… a software-based platform we are delivering that will not require a satellite dish on the roof, and a very thin client in the home, rather than a big set-top-box, …a very thin client, and all the DVR and all the replay capabilities will be largely cloud-based. And so, we are developing this very, very quickly, taking DIRECTV Now and leveraging it into a scalable platform that goes into the home as the primary service. We are launching a beta of this in the fourth quarter of this year. And you will see us begin to roll the service out as we get into 2018. And we are actually really excited about this, because you suddenly take the customer acquisition costs of somebody having traditional video service in their home, you take that installation cost down dramatically, and again, you can begin to work the yields for the customer without destroying margins.”

The executive acknowledged the programming offering on the wireless network will be similar to DIRECTV Now which presumably would continue to operate outside of the wireless network.

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Stephenson, who made his remarks at the Goldman Sachs investors conference in New York, added that his company believes that Internet-based TV needs to replace DIRECTV’s satellite service, although he did not offer any timetable for that transition.

Considering that DIRECTV has more than 20 million dishes across the United States, it would seem unlikely that AT&T would go all-Internet anytime soon. (But maybe I’m just confused here.)

Another concern: All live streaming services have been plagued by recurring technical errors, particularly buffering and picture freezing during high-trafficked events. If AT&T were to only offer Internet TV, many subscribers would likely to drop now because of the inconsistency of the technology.

But Stephenson said future technologies, particularly 5G, will soon resolve those technical issues. The company has been testing 5G on DIRECTV Now in select markets.

The executive said the eventual transition from satellite to Internet is necessary because satellite is too costly with the average subscriber now paying more than $100 a month. DIRECTV Now, which does not require as much infrastructure maintenance as the satellite division, offers monthly fees ranging from $35 to $70.

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Another concern for AT&T: The company still has U-verse, a TV service which delivers programming via an Internet Protocol Television system to roughly four million homes. AT&T has said it wants to transition those subscribers to DIRECTV, the satellite service, but it may have to begin moving them to the Internet TV services.

DIRECTV. DIRECTV Now. U-verse. And the upcoming wireless TV service. It’s getting crowded in AT&T’s video division.

— Phillip Swann