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AT&T/Time Warner Win Merger Deal With No Consumer Protection Conditions

AT&T has won its $85 billion bid to acquire Time Warner, Inc., overturning Justice Department opposition in a court case and completely rejecting allegations the merger was anti-consumer and would raise prices by suppressing competition. The favorable decision is expected to signal the business community the time is right for several more multi-billion dollar media mergers.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon ruled the deal can proceed without any consumer-protecting deal conditions, and warned Department of Justice lawyers not to appeal if the purpose was to stymie the deal from closing before the companies’ agreed on deal expiration date runs out, saying it would be “manifestly unjust” and damaging to the faith of America’s shareholders and business community.

Leon read his decision to a packed courtroom, telling the government’s lawyers they had failed to prove their case the merger would harm consumers. Observers called it one of the worst antitrust court losses the Justice Department has faced in its history.

“Today is a bad day for all internet users and media consumers,” said Free Press policy director Matt Wood. “The Justice Department’s failure to bring a winnable case will now set off a wave of communications and media consolidation that was unthinkable even a few years ago. All of us, regardless of our broadband carrier and no matter what we watch, are about to see higher bills, fewer choices, worse quality for competing options and a further erosion of our privacy rights.”

During a six-week trial held this spring, the government argued AT&T’s combination of DirecTV’s 20 million subscribers with its own U-verse TV customers, and its ownership of Time Warner’s pay television networks including HBO and Cinemax and Turner Broadcasting’s news, entertainment, and sports networks, would give the phone company too much power, allowing AT&T to unfairly raise prices for competing cable, satellite, and online streaming companies. AT&T acquired DirecTV in 2015, but regulators were already concerned about AT&T’s size, only approving the transaction with deal conditions.

AT&T argued it was willing to offer arbitration to make sure its competitors received fair deals, and volunteered to not cut off TV networks from customers during arbitration proceedings to resolve contract renewal disputes.

The decision has dramatic implications far beyond the merger at hand. Waiting in the wings are other media companies, Wall Street bankers, and advisers waiting to begin a frenzy of other blockbuster merger deals. Had the court blocked the merger, it would send a strong signal that the Justice Department’s case against vertical integration mergers — when companies buy other companies they do business with — has standing. The total defeat of the Justice Department in today’s decision may make government lawyers hesitant to challenge future vertical integration deals.

Comcast’s all-cash offer for a large part of 21st Century Fox is likely to proceed now that the AT&T-Time Warner merger was approved. More telecom industry deals are expected to emerge later this year.

The Trump Administration’s choice to oversee antitrust cases — Makan Delrahim, sent signals to Wall Street that he is still inclined to be pro-business on merger transactions, telling reporters most proposed transactions were either good for consumers or neutral — a view consumer advocates generally oppose.

“I understand that some journalists and observers have recently expressed concern that the antitrust division no longer believes that vertical mergers can be efficient and beneficial to competition and consumers,” Delrahim said. “Rest assured these concerns are misplaced.”

If the merger is completed, AT&T will now be the country’s largest pay-TV distributor, controlling more than a dozen “must-have” TV networks that competitors cannot afford to be without. The deal will even affect the wireless industry’s competitive landscape. AT&T’s unlimited wireless customers are expected to be given exclusive free access to a bundle of channels filled with Time Warner-owned content.

NBC News Launching New Online Streaming Network

Phillip Dampier June 6, 2018 Consumer News, Online Video No Comments

NBC News will appeal to cord cutters and online news junkies with a new streaming network to be launched this summer, according to a report in Variety.

NBC News Digital is an experimental project from NBC News and will not duplicate existing NBC and MSNBC programming. Instead, the news division is hiring producers and talent to create new, original news shows for online audiences.

NBC News chairman Andrew Lack hinted that NBC was getting into the live-streaming business back in March, but had offered few details.

Most 24/7 news channels are behind the cable industry’s “TV Everywhere” authentication paywall, requiring viewers to prove they are current paid cable television subscribers to gain access.

NBC will face immediate competition from CBSN, the free digital streaming service from CBS offering live coverage of important news events and a regularly updated playlist of pre-recorded news segments and airings of CBS network news programming and features.

Fox News is working on its own subscription-based online news channel called Fox Nation that is expected to arrive by the end of this year.

In contrast, other cable news networks have been substantially cutting back on digital projects. CNN laid off its digital staffers in early 2018 and MSNBC relies exclusively on streaming material that has already aired on the cable news channel.

Large Numbers of Hulu Subscribers Pay $11.99 to Avoid Commercials

Phillip Dampier May 30, 2018 Competition, Consumer News, Hulu, Online Video 1 Comment

A large number of Hulu customers are willing to pay $4 more per month to banish advertisements from the streaming service’s growing catalog of content.

Hulu, a partnership between Fox, Comcast-NBC, Disney, and Time Warner, Inc., has more than 20 million paid subscribers, and around 40 percent pay $11.99 for the ad-free version of the service. Fox CEO James Murdoch told Recode he believed the ad-avoiding crowd had grown to represent 50% of Hulu’s subscriber base, but insiders later corrected Murdoch, claiming more than 60% still pay $7.99 a month for the ad-supported tier.

Hulu says its customers are getting ad loads “less than half that of traditional television” on its $7.99 plan, according to CEO Randy Freer.

More mysterious — how many customers are willing to pay $40 a month for Hulu’s Live TV service. Hulu isn’t saying.

Fierce Cable notes CBS All Access has also had success getting subscribers to pay $9.99 a month for an ad-free experience — $4 more than its standard $5.99 subscription price. CBS claims about one-third of its 2.5 million customers choose ad-free viewing.

CBS has been criticized for loading considerably more advertising content into shows than its rivals, which may have irritated enough customers to upgrade.

Joe Ianniello, chief operating officer at CBS, said the more subscribers are willing to pay for CBS All Access, the more leverage CBS gets forcing cable and satellite providers to pay more for the right to carry CBS affiliated television stations on their lineups.

“When the consumer is making the choice to pay $10 a month, that speaks volumes and that gives us a lot of strength when we go into those negotiations because we know that the consumer has knowingly elected to pay that. They’re not being subsidized by advertising, or subsidized in big bundle cable package; they chose to do that so that gives us a lot of confidence when we head into those revenue negotiations,” Ianniello said during CBS’ most recent earnings call.

AT&T to Introduce DirecTV Satellite Service… Over the Internet

Phillip Dampier May 16, 2018 AT&T, Competition, Consumer News, Online Video No Comments

DirecTV’s satellite lineup, delivered over the internet.

DirecTV satellite customers with broadband connections might be able to scrap their satellite dishes and set-top equipment when AT&T launches its broadband-delivered version of DirecTV by the end of 2018.

AT&T Communications CEO John Donovan made the announcement at the MoffettNathanson Media & Communications Summit on Tuesday, telling the audience the lineup would be nearly identical to the satellite TV packages customers get today from DirecTV’s satellite dish service.

Customers who opt to dump their dish may also save money by moving their subscription to a broadband platform. Currently, AT&T sells DirecTV for $120-200 a month, depending on equipment and channel lineup. The broadband equivalent, which will not require any expensive set-top box equipment and will rely on a cloud-based DVR, will sell for $80-90 a month.

DirecTV satellite packages (new customer promotional rates — regular prices are higher)

“We won’t roll a truck,” to install a satellite dish, Donovan said. “The [equipment costs] will be cheaper. It will be a thinner, lighter version and we will have lower operating costs. We anticipate passing [on] a lot of those cost savings [to customers].”

Donovan believes a transition away from satellite will be a win-win for the company and consumers because both will face lower costs. It also gives DirecTV the chance to expand, marketing its full video lineup to customers who can’t get a satellite signal, don’t want a dish, or live in a building that restricts satellite equipment.

“It will extend our footprint,” Donovan said at the MoffettNathanson event. “It will not only have a lower price point, but it will have margins that are similar and, therefore, better returns because there will be less upfront costs.”

With today’s announcement, AT&T will have at least five different video products on offer for consumers: DirecTV satellite service, DirecTV over broadband, DirecTV Now — a slimmed down package targeting cord-cutters, U-verse TV — AT&T’s traditional cable TV package, and AT&T Watch — a forthcoming ultra-slim offering that will cost $15 a month for non-AT&T wireless customers. Existing AT&T wireless customers will get Watch free of charge, if they have an unlimited data plan.

DirecTV Now Launches Free 20-Hour Storage DVR Service to Customers

Phillip Dampier May 15, 2018 AT&T, Competition, Consumer News, DirecTV, Online Video 3 Comments

AT&T’s DirecTV Now service has introduced its long-awaited cloud storage DVR service to its streaming customers, offering 20 hours of recording space for no additional charge.

“True Cloud DVR” has been in beta testing for about 10 months as AT&T built up its streaming platform and squashed several persistent bugs afflicting recordings. With today’s introduction, DirecTV Now customers will have access to a time-shifting DVR with true fast-forward and rewind features without having to pay extra for the service. But recordings will expire after 30 days.

Later this summer, AT&T will offer customers a $10 optional upgrade to 100 hours of DVR storage space and the ability to store recorded shows for up to 90 days.

DVR service is just one of several changes introduced today by DirecTV Now:

  • A complete app refresh, emphasizing the viewer’s favorite shows and networks.
  • The option to add a third concurrent stream for an additional $5 a month.
  • Over 25,000 on-demand titles and much faster availability of some TV shows for on-demand viewing – as little as minutes after airing.
  • Users will be able to access their local stations while traveling outside of the area.

The upgraded look and new features are available starting today for iOS and tvOS users and web users. Android, Fire TV, and Roku devices will see upgrades in the weeks ahead.

 

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  • Norm Mueller: Do not even consider this company for your service provider, or you will forever regret it like I do. This started because Comcast's promotional rate...
  • Katherine. Voss: I sent all my contract buyout forms. Got no credible response. This is a scheme. I am sending information to proper agencies....
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  • Josh: Sounds risky....40 million subscribers is insanely high, and clearly that guy running it since ‘92 knows what he’s doing. I forgot AT&T owns hbo ...
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  • Denis Cartledge: I live in a small (Australian) New England regional town, population ~3,500. The main north south New England Fibre Trunk runs up our main street, wh...
  • James Thompsen: You pay more you get mor.... hey wait an Effin minute!...
  • Joshi: Honestly, I'm glad Comcast did not win the bid. If they won, things would have gotten a lot worse since they bought out NBC Universal and Dreamworks s...
  • Stephen Collins: The modem increase is the most unconscionable of the bunch....
  • Wilhelm: My local phone company, Ontario and Trumansburg Telephone company is deploying fiber to the home in Phelps and Clifton Springs, NY this Summer. When t...
  • Paul A Houle: I for one are happy to see the sports not go to Disney or to any cable carrier. Disney already controls sports on ABC as well as ESPN, they don't ne...

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