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AT&T Exempts Its Own HBO Max Service from AT&T Wireless Caps

AT&T mobile customers can watch AT&T-owned HBO Max without fearing any impact on their data allowances, despite the fact competing services like Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Hulu, and Netflix will not be given similar treatment.

The Verge confirmed with AT&T that customers with AT&T mobile service can watch an unlimited amount of HBO Max and not exceed data allowances or the soft cap of 22-50 GB a month that unlimited use plan customers have.

The practice of exempting some content from data caps is known as “zero rating” and critics of the practice contend it is an “end run” around net neutrality. AT&T defends itself claiming HBO Max is paying AT&T to sponsor customer usage.

“According to an AT&T executive familiar with the matter, HBO Max is using AT&T’s ‘sponsored data’ system, which technically allows any company to pay to excuse its services from data caps,” according to the story in The Verge. “But since AT&T owns HBO Max, it’s just paying itself: the data fee shows up on the HBO Max books as an expense and on the AT&T Mobility books as revenue. For AT&T as a whole, it zeroes out. Compare that to a competitor like Netflix, which could theoretically pay AT&T for sponsored data, but it would be a pure cost.”

In short, AT&T is moving money from one of its pockets to the other, which may tangentially benefit AT&T mobile customers, but will also leave competing streaming services at a disadvantage, allowing AT&T to give preferential treatment to its own streaming service, which may discourage subscriptions to other services.

Ars Technica confirmed AT&T is not extending the data cap exemption to customers with AT&T DSL or Fiber service.

AT&T’s WarnerMedia Sets HBO Max Launch Date: May 27

Phillip Dampier April 21, 2020 AT&T, Competition, Consumer News, HBO Max, Online Video No Comments

Get ready for another huge streaming platform, America. HBO Max from AT&T’s WarnerMedia is scheduled to debut Wednesday, May 27th with over 10,000 of content encompassing the libraries of HBO, Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, Crunchyroll, CNN, Looney Tunes, Rooster Teeth, TBS, TNT, truTV, and Turner Classic Movies.

HBO Max will replace HBO Now — the premium movie network’s subscription service for cord-cutters, and will remain priced at $14.99 a month. Those who currently subscribe to HBO through Charter Spectrum, AT&T TV (and TV Now), or DirecTV will get access to the HBO Max service at no additional cost.

WarnerMedia is positioning the service as a general interest streaming platform and super-sized HBO offering, sold as “Where HBO meets so much more.” It will combine legacy network TV content with original HBO movies and shows, and productions made especially for HBO Max.

“Our No. 1 goal is having extraordinary content for everyone in the family, and the HBO Max programming mix we are so excited to unveil on May 27th will bear that out,” said Bob Greenblatt, chairman of Warner Media Entertainment and Direct-To-Consumer. “Even in the midst of this unprecedented pandemic, the all-star teams behind every aspect of HBO Max will deliver a platform and a robust slate of content that is varied, of the highest quality, and second to none.”

HBO Max is likely to face challenges that its closest competitors — Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video do not. First, the service will launch with a premium price – $14.99 a month, which is more than double what Hulu charges and more than streaming leader Netflix, which suffered a growth slowdown after the last price increase brought its most popular plan to $12.99 a month. Second, the streaming market has become saturated with services that launched before HBO Max, which may potentially limit enthusiasm in these times of economic uncertainty. Disney+ launched with heavy discounting and comes free to a number of customers through cross-promotions with other companies. A subscription service asking for $15 a month at launch may prove a difficult sell, especially to those with no interest in HBO. Third, the HBO brand conveys an impression to would-be customers about the platform’s content. HBO has been criticized for its “male-centered” programming, replete with violence and sexual content. The brand itself may be a hard sell in conservative households with younger children, despite the fact it will feature a large roster of classic and new Looney Tunes cartoons, a Sesame Street original, and other family-friendly programming.

Subscribers will find content on the platform including:

Classic TV Shows: “Friends,” “The Big Bang Theory,” “South Park”

Movies: all Studio Ghibli films, films from Warner Bros., New Line and DC like “Joker,” “Suicide Squad,” “Wonder Woman,” “The Matrix,” “Casablanca” and “The Wizard of Oz.”

Originals: Comedy series “Love Life” starring Anna Kendrick, documentary “On the Record” about accusations of sexual harassment and rape against hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons; “Legendary,” an underground ballroom dance competition series; “Craftopia,” hosted by YouTube star LaurDIY; an all-new “Looney Tunes Cartoons” from Warner Bros. Animation; and Sesame Workshop’s “The Not Too Late Show with Elmo.”

Watch the trailer from HBO Max original “Love Life,” starting May 27. (1:57)

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)

WarnerMedia’s New Streaming Service is Called HBO Max

Phillip Dampier July 9, 2019 Competition, Consumer News, HBO Max, Online Video No Comments

AT&T/WarnerMedia’s new streaming service due to debut in Spring 2020 will be called HBO Max and bundle original and classic content from AT&T-owned networks and studios, including Warner Bros., New Line, DC Entertainment, CNN, TNT, TBS, truTV, CW, Turner Classic Movies, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, Crunchyroll, Rooster Teeth, and Looney Tunes.

AT&T still has not announced pricing for the service, but most expect it will end up costing around $16 a month, more than any other streaming service.

“HBO Max will bring together the diverse riches of WarnerMedia to create programming and user experiences not seen before in a streaming platform,” Bob Greenblatt, chairman of WarnerMedia Entertainment and direct-to-consumer, said in a statement.

To attract potential subscribers, AT&T has been pulling back content it owns or controls from other streaming services. In addition to The Office, AT&T announced it will also yank Friends reruns off of Netflix in early 2020, despite collecting $80 million from the streaming giant this year to carry the NBC series that aired its last episode in 2004.

To market HBO Max, WarnerMedia will tie it to the marquee HBO brand and its HBO Max and Go streaming services. HBO Max customers will receive access to the full HBO online catalog of on-demand content, along with more than a dozen new made-for-streaming TV shows and movies. Much of the new content will target a younger audience, including a large roster of CW shows, original movies and shows. But older audiences will also find a large library of classic content from the enormous Turner Classic Movies and Warner Bros. studio libraries.

A preview for HBO Max, WarnerMedia’s new streaming service, debuting in Spring 2020. (0:43)

WarnerMedia’s Streaming Service Will Cost $16-17 and Bundle HBO/Cinemax

Phillip Dampier June 6, 2019 AT&T, Competition, Consumer News, HBO Max, Online Video No Comments

WarnerMedia’s forthcoming streaming service will showcase HBO and Cinemax at the heart of a one-size-fits-all streaming package priced at $16-17 a month, featuring premium movies and Warner Bros. vast movie and TV show collection.

AT&T plans to begin beta testing of the service later this year, with plans to sell the service to consumers as early as March 2020, according to the Wall Street Journal.

John Donovan, CEO of AT&T Communications, signaled AT&T’s “radical reshape” of television on a Credit Suisse Communications conference call event on Wednesday.

“The streaming strategy, whether you call it an OTT or IPTV or thin client, we’re going to transform our product,” Donovan said. “It is the consumer product I am most excited about since the iPhone. It radically reshapes what your concept of television is.”

The “new concept” is a radical departure from AT&T’s earlier plan to offer “good,” “better,” and “best” price points, varying the amount of content depending on how much subscribers were willing to pay. Instead, Donovan proposes one price point for every subscriber, with access to an unprecedented amount of content produced by one of the country’s largest Hollywood studios. Warner Bros. has produced thousands of movies and series since the early days of television in the 1950s and the advent of commercial filmmaking in the early 20th century.

Donovan

“The idea of three tiers never made much sense and is too complicated to fly in the marketplace,” analyst Craig Moffett of MoffettNathanson told the newspaper.

Despite the potential of an enormous library of streamed content, consumers may balk at WarnerMedia’s asking price, especially if they have no interest in HBO or Cinemax. Netflix’s most popular two-stream plan costs $12.99 a month and second place Hulu is available for $5.99 a month with ads or $11.99 a month without. Most niche streaming services like MHz Choice, CBS All Access, Acorn Media, BritBox, and other similar services are all under $10 a month. AT&T proposes to set its price higher than traditional premium movie network services like HBO, which usually costs $14.99, to protect the relationships and revenue it earns from cable, satellite, and telco TV providers. But AT&T’s new service may be a tough sell, especially considering forthcoming streaming services like Disney+ plans to launch Nov. 12 at $6.99 a month, and Viacom’s Pluto TV and Sinclair’s STIRR are ad-supported and free. In fact, most of the newly announced streaming services yet to launch are targeting much lower price points, fearing consumers may be nearing their budget limits for more content.

AT&T warns it may adjust pricing before the service launches next year, and there may eventually be a cheaper, ad-supported version, making the service comparable to Hulu. AT&T has also not disclosed how much original made-for-streaming programming it plans to include in the venture, which may be an important consideration to attract price-sensitive customers not interested in watching repeats and movies they can watch elsewhere. Consumers may also be overwhelmed and fatigued by the amount of content already available to watch through established players like Netflix and Hulu, so WarnerMedia may find their streaming service a difficult sell, especially as cord-cutters find prices for streaming live TV services already rising as fast as their old cable TV subscriptions.

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