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New AT&T TV Streaming Service is Loaded With Costly Tricks and Traps

Phillip Dampier March 2, 2020 AT&T, AT&T TV, Competition, Consumer News, Online Video 1 Comment

AT&T has created a streaming television bundle that cable and satellite subscribers can appreciate. Replicating the kind of promotions familiar to DirecTV subscribers, AT&T debuted its new streaming TV service nationwide this morning with three promotionally priced packages that start at a relatively low price and end with a very high one.

AT&T TV is intended to fill the gap between bare bones, slimmed-down packages offered by services like Sling TV and the bloated television packages offered by traditional cable and satellite providers. The new service is part of AT&T’s plan to gradually wind down DirecTV satellite service and U-verse TV, delivering video content over the internet instead of by cable or satellite. AT&T has already ceased marketing its U-verse TV service and intends to do the same with DirecTV, which had been heavily advertised for years. The best new customer promotions will likely be targeted towards its new streaming service as well.

AT&T TV’s set-top box and remote control.

Unlike AT&T’s cord-cutting package — AT&T TV Now, AT&T TV features hundreds of channels, a 500-hour DVR that will store recordings up to 90 days, and over 40,000 on-demand shows. AT&T TV carries just about every cable channel imaginable, along with a healthy amount of regional and national sports, most local stations, scores of international channels in several languages, and premium movie channels galore. AT&T TV does not have the bandwidth and capacity constraints U-verse and DirecTV have, so the service can offer as many channels as customers can afford.

To watch, you need an internet connection with at least 8 Mbps for “optimal viewing.” If you want to bundle AT&T’s gigabit fiber service with AT&T TV, the company offers an extra $10/mo off for the first 12 months of your 24 month contract.

One of AT&T’s biggest selling points for its new TV service is its bundled set-top box, powered by Google’s Android TV. That gives subscribers access to apps in the Google Play Store, which means integrating Netflix, Hulu, and just about any other music or video streaming app is easy. Customers also can benefit from AT&T’s voice remote, which uses Google Assistant.

A careful review of the terms and conditions quickly reveals that this new service is not intentioned for cord-cutters. For starters, AT&T TV channel lineups are larger than other cord-cutting services, and are priced accordingly. The cheapest package on offer — Entertainment (~73 channels), is priced at $93 a month after the new customer promotion expires. AT&T TV also includes a two-year term contract satellite users are well familiar with. If you cancel early, you are subject to an early cancellation penalty of $15 for each month remaining on your contract. A sports programming fee of up to $8.49/mo is charged separately for some customers. A $19.95 setup fee also applies, along with equipment fees of $10/mo for each additional set-top box (the first one is included). Customers can also buy the box outright for $120.

AT&T protects its other video services from revenue cannibalization by disallowing new customer discounts for existing DirecTV and U-verse TV customers. For everyone else, here is what you can expect to pay:

  • Entertainment: $49.99/mo for months 1-12, $93/mo for months 13-24.
  • Choice: $54.99/mo for months 1-12, $110/mo for months 13-24.
  • XTRA: $64.99/mo for months 1-12, $124/mo for months 13-24.
  • Ultimate: $69.99/mo for months 1-12, $135/mo for months 13-24.
  • Optimo Más: $54.99/mo for months 1-12, $86.99 for months 13-24.

Some other points:

  • AT&T TV allows up to three concurrent streams.
  • Regional Sports Fee of up to $8.49/mo. applies to Choice and higher packages.
  • Additional set-top boxes are $10/mo or can be purchased for $120.
  • A $50 AT&T Visa® Reward Card is available if you order AT&T TV online. Expires: 3/31/2020. For new residential customers only. Residents of select multi-dwelling units not eligible.
  • Save an additional $10/mo. for 12 months on TV when you bundle with internet or wireless.
  • $19.95 activation fee.
  • Early termination fee of $15/mo for each month remaining on agreement.
  • Equipment non-return fee may apply if you fail to return equipment when ending service.

WOW! Lays Foundation to Ditch Selling Cable TV; Starts Offering Streaming Alternatives

Cable system overbuilder WideOpenWest, better known to customers as WOW!, has begun offering its customers subscriptions to streaming video competitors fuboTV, Philo, Sling, and YouTube TV, in what could be a gradual move away from selling its own video packages.

WOW!, like every cable operator, is losing cable television customers to cord-cutting. As of the end of 2019, the company had just 381,000 video subscribers remaining, down another 6,300 in the last three months. Because of its small size, WOW! does not qualify for the steep volume discounts offered to cable television and satellite TV companies that have tens of millions of video customers. As a result, it either has to continue to raise prices or watch its cable television packages become unprofitable. WOW! has apparently decided it is smarter to partner with nationwide video streaming providers, if only to keep its broadband and television customers from switching to a competitor.

“WOW! has always put a high value on offering choices to consumers,” said WOW! CEO Teresa Elder. “This is one more way we’re empowering customers to determine when, where and how they consume information and entertainment. Our robust broadband network is the natural choice for high-speed data customers […] who want to access streaming services on their terms.”

WOW! specializes in providing service in communities already served by another cable operator. Many of its systems are in the Midwest, where it competes with Charter Spectrum, Cox, or Comcast.

WOW! will offer customers one free Amazon Fire TV Stick and a $25 rebate that can be used to buy other set-top boxes that will support streaming TV alternatives.

If successful, it may not be too long before WOW! stops selling cable television altogether, to focus on its broadband business.

Streaming Services Are Monitoring Customers for Signs of Password Sharing

Large media companies and streaming services are on to many of you.

If you are among the two-thirds of subscribers that have reportedly shared your Netflix, HBO GO, Hulu, or Disney+ password with friends and family, your provider probably already knows about it.

A recent report from HUB Entertainment Research found that at least 64% of 13-24-year-olds have shared a password to a streaming service with someone else, with 31% of consumers admitting they are sharing passwords with people outside of their home.

The reason many people share passwords is to save money on the cost of signing up for multiple streaming services. Many trade a Netflix password in return for a Hulu password, or hand over an HBO GO password in exchange for access to your Disney+ account. Research firm Park Associates claims that streamers lost an estimated $9.1 billion in revenue from password sharing, and can expect to lose nearly $12.5 billion by 2024 if password sharing is not curtailed.

Oddly, most streaming services are well aware of password sharing and the lost revenue that results from sharing accounts, and most care little, at least for now.

Marketplace notes a lot of the complaints about password sharing are coming from cable industry executives, shareholders, and Wall Street analysts, but for now most streaming services are just monitoring the situation instead of controlling it.

“I think we continue to monitor it,” said Gregory K. Peters, Netflix’s chief product officer, on the 2019 third quarter earnings call. “We’ll see those consumer-friendly ways to push on the edges of that, but I think we’ve got no big plans to announce at this point in time in terms of doing something differently there.”

Netflix sells different tiers of service that limit the number of concurrent streams to one, two, or four streams at a time. The company believes that if customers that share accounts bump into the stream limits, many will upgrade to a higher level of service which will result in more revenue.

Newcomer Disney+ not only recognizes password sharing is going on, it almost embraces it.

“We’re setting up a service that is very family friendly. We expect families to consume it,” Disney CEO Bob Iger said in an interview with CNBC. “We will be monitoring [password sharing] with the various tools that we have.”

The biggest tool Disney has to monitor account sharing is Charter Spectrum, which is aggressively encouraging streaming services to crack down hard on password sharing. Spectrum internet customers who watch Disney+ are now tracked by Spectrum, recording each IP address that accesses Disney+ content over Spectrum’s broadband service. When multiple people at different IP addresses access Disney+ content on a single account at the same time, Spectrum can flag those customers as potential password sharers.

Synamedia, a streaming provider security firm, uses geolocation tools to determine who is watching streaming services from where. If someone is watching one stream from one address and another person is watching from another city at the same time, password sharing is the likely culprit. For now, most companies are quietly collecting data to learn just how big a problem password sharing is and are not using that information to crack down on customers.

Streaming providers are more interested in stopping the pervasive sale of stolen account credentials on services like eBay and shutting down stolen accounts used to harvest content for unauthorized resale. But as sharing grows, so will calls from stakeholders to curtail the practice. Those in favor of vigorous crackdowns on password sharing argue billions of dollars of lost revenue will be lost. If a service like Netflix blocked password sharing, that could lead to dramatic increases in account sign-ups. But less established brands like Disney+ seem more concerned about losing the unofficial extra viewers that are watching and buzzing about shows on its new streaming platform.

Cable companies are frustrated about losing scores of cable TV customers to competitors that may be effectively giving away service for free. That has raised tempers at companies like Charter Communications.

“Pricing and lack of security continue to be the main problems contributing to the challenges of paid video growth,” Charter CEO Thomas Rutledge said in recent prepared remarks with Wall Street analysts. “The traditional bundle … is very expensive, and the actual unit rate of that product continues to rise, and that’s priced a lot of people out of the market. And it’s free to a lot of consumers who have friends with passwords. So our ability to sell that product is ultimately constrained by our relationship with content [companies], and we have to manage that in terms of the kinds of power that the content companies have.”

Charter’s power comes from its willingness to distribute cable networks like The Disney Channel to tens of millions of homes around the country. That forces Disney to listen to Charter’s concerns about piracy and password sharing and the issue is even documented in the latest carriage contract between the two companies.

Cable industry executives believe a crackdown on password sharing is inevitable, eventually. Just as the cable industry was forced to combat cable pirates during its formative years, streaming providers that welcome extra viewers today may lament the lost revenue those subscribers don’t bring to the table tomorrow.

 

Marketplace reports on the growing issue of streaming service password sharing. (2:19)

Comcast/NBC’s Peacock Launches This Spring – Free for Comcast & Cox Video Customers

Comcast video customers will be the first to get Comcast/NBCUniversal’s new streaming platform, dubbed “Peacock,” featuring over 400 TV series and 600 movies, mostly from the library of Universal Studios, beginning this spring.

“This is a very exciting time for our company, as we chart the future of entertainment,” NBCUniversal chairman Steve Burke said at an event this afternoon announcing details about the service to Comcast’s investors. “We have one of the most enviable collections of media brands and the strongest ad sales track record in the business. Capitalizing on these key strengths, we are taking a unique approach to streaming that brings value to customers, advertisers and shareholders.”

Peacock will feature multiple tiers of service, at least two available for free:

  • Peacock Free: This ad-supported tier (promised to include only five minutes of ads per hour) will be available to all and will feature about half of Peacock’s content library (7,500 hours). Similar to Hulu’s basic service, this free tier will offer next-day access to currently airing NBC TV series, entire seasons of selected older shows, selected movies, news, and sports programming. Some of Peacock’s original series will also be available on the free tier, along with a selection of clips and shows highlighting NBC content like Saturday Night Live, Family Movie Night, and the Olympics.
  • Peacock for Authenticated TV Subscribers (free): If you are a current Comcast or Cox cable TV subscriber, you can get Peacock’s Premium offering with a complete selection of Peacock content at no charge. This tier offers 15,000 hours of live/on-demand content, but has advertising. You can get rid of the ads by paying an extra $5 a month.
  • Peacock Premium: If you are a cord-cutter or do not subscribe to a TV package with a Comcast-partnered provider, you can subscribe directly to Peacock’s premium, ad-free version for $10 a month. This unlocks the complete lineup of Peacock content.

NBCUniversal officials also used today’s event to announce more original programming deals beyond those already announced, including new original comedies from Tina Fey, Sky Studios, Mindy Kaling and Amy Poehler. Almost all of Dick Wolf’s ubiquitous Law & Order (and its various spinoff series) will also be available for streaming, as will his current roster of Chicago-based series Fire, P.D., and Med. Peacock Premium customers will also be able to stream NBC’s late-night shows before they air on NBC. The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon will be available as early as 8 p.m. ET and Late Night with Seth Meyers will be available by 9 p.m.

Peacock will enter a very crowded field of streaming services, and is the last previously announced streaming service to launch, likely shortly after AT&T launches HBO Max. The fact there will be a free version may make the service more palatable to consumers weary of subscribing to yet another paid streaming service, on top of Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max, and a range of specialty streaming services featuring international programming, sports, movies, and documentaries.

Hulu + Live TV Hiking Rates $10/Mo; Most Customers Will Pay $55 a Month for Live TV Streaming

Phillip Dampier November 18, 2019 Competition, Consumer News, Hulu, Online Video 1 Comment

Hulu + Live TV is celebrating its successful signup of over an estimated 2.7 million customers with a major rate increase the company says reflects the service’s true value in the marketplace.

Most customers will see their subscription price increase by $10 a month, from $45 to $55 a month.

“Today, we’re letting customers know that the monthly base price of Hulu + Live TV will increase to $54.99, beginning December 18,” the company wrote in a blog post. “The new price better reflects the substantial value of Hulu + Live TV and allows us to continue offering all of the popular live news, sports and entertainment programming included in the plan.”

Craig Moffett, a chief analyst at MoffettNathanson, told readers of his Cord Cutting Monitor quarterly newsletter that Hulu + Live TV, which combines Hulu’s on demand plan with a selection of about 60 streaming live TV networks, is likely America’s largest cable TV replacement service, topping Sling TV’s estimated 2.686 million customers.

Moffett also reported that cord cutting is becoming a more costly proposition.

“Eighteen months ago, the cheapest video packages for vMVPDs were clustered around $30 to $35 per month,” Moffett wrote. “Eighteen months later, most are in the $45 to $50 per month range, an increase of roughly 50%.”

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