Q. You used to be the TV predictions guy. Don’t you have some predictions for the next year coming up? I would like to see what you think will happen with DIRECTV and some other companies. — Maryann, Cincinnati.
Maryann, I did run the TVPredictions.com industry web site for nearly twenty years before launching this site devoted to helping consumers get the most from new TV technologies. Although my focus has changed, I will accommodate your request and offer five pithy predictions for the TV technology industry in 2020.
And let’s start with DIRECTV, as you requested.
DIRECTV Stops Taking Orders
AT&T, which owns the nation’s largest satellite service, will take its live streaming service, AT&T TV, nationwide next month. The venture is designed to be an online replacement for DIRECTV, offering similar programming packages for roughly the same prices. (The biggest difference between the two is that AT&T TV does not offer the NFL Sunday Ticket, which, of course, DIRECTV does.)
The telco wants to transform its TV properties, which also include U-verse, to an all-streaming business because it believes that streaming is a less expensive offering for both the company and consumer. By going online, AT&T believes it can keep your monthly bill lower, which in turn can keep more subscribers from cutting the cord.
(Since AT&T purchased DIRECTV in 2015, the satcaster has lost around three million subscribers and the biggest reason why is escalating monthly prices. Some customers lament that AT&T’s questionable customer service is at least the second reason.)
However, DIRECTV is still in roughly 17 million homes so AT&T can’t drop the satellite business prematurely because many current DIRECTV customers would not make the switch to online. AT&T doesn’t want to risk losing more subscribers so it will begin trying to persuade satellite owners to switch, but it won’t force them at this point.
But AT&T can certainly take actions to keep the satellite audience from getting bigger, and that will start this year with DIRECTV announcing it will no longer take orders to install a dish. If you want a program package from DIRECTV, you’ll have to get AT&T TV, which will be the closest thing to it.
Apple Throws a Few Hail Mary Passes
Apple last month launched its new streaming service, Apple TV Plus, which includes original programming featuring some of Hollywood’s biggest names, including Stephen Spielberg, Tom Hanks, Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Oprah Winfrey.
While we don’t have concrete viewer or subscriber numbers yet (Apple hasn’t released them), the initial batch of shows have generated mixed reviews from the critics. And considering that Apple TV Plus’ catalogue of programs is a tiny fraction of what other streamers have, the odds are that its paid subscriber base is small as well.
In addition, Disney Plus, which also launched last month, announced it collected 10 million sign-ups (paid subs and free trial) on the first day alone, leaving most media writers to conclude that Disney is a winner in the streaming war while Apple is already a loser.
Apple would seem to need a course correction to get the attention of both consumers and the media. Consequently, I predict it will begin bidding for the rights to live sporting events and/or channels. The company certainly has the resources to make a splash if it chooses to and I think it will.
Amazon Gets the Online NFL Sunday Ticket
AT&T’s contract to carry the NFL Sunday Ticket as an exclusive ends after the 2022 season, although there’s some belief the league could opt out after the 2021 season. Regardless, the current agreement does not prohibit NFL executives from discussing a new deal that would begin after its relationship with AT&T expires or is amended.
Amazon, which has provided online coverage of Thursday Night Football games for two years now, is bullish on live sports. The company is the logical candidate to purchase the rights to the streaming edition of the Ticket, beginning either after the DIRECTV deal expires or concurrent with the last year or two of that agreement.
Apple will likely bid as well, but the NFL will opt for Amazon because the latter has already demonstrated it knows how to distribute big-time sports in a live stream.
HBO Now Goes Away
AT&T, which owns HBO, plans to launch a new streaming version of the premium channel in May 2020 called HBO Max. The new venture will include the usual HBO lineup, but it will be supplemented by a catalogue of un-HBO like programming such as repeats of The Big Bang Theory. AT&T executives believe the broader offering will appeal to subscribers of rival services such as Netflix.
The telco has suggested that HBO Max will cost $15 a month, which is the same price as HBO Now, the streaming version of HBO. So it seems obvious to me that AT&T will end HBO Now in May and switch its subscribers to HBO Max.
AT&T TV Now Goes Away
The live streaming service, AT&T TV Now, which used to be called DIRECTV Now, has been rapidly losing subscribers over the last year. It also seems obvious to me that AT&T will close it soon after it launches AT&T TV, if for no other reason to simplify its now-confusing offering of TV services.
So there you go, Maryann. Five predictions for 2020. And dear readers, if you would like to see more, let me know and I might offer some more forecasts for the coming year.
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— Phillip Swann
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