Like other cable and satellite companies, AT&T (NYSE: T) is trying to win new customers by making it a little easier to sign up for and watch TV.
It said Tuesday that DirecTV packages that run on apps and don’t need a dish or TV set-top box are coming in the fourth quarter. You don’t have to be an AT&T phone customer to sign up.
But it’s hard to gauge how appealing these deals will be, because it’s not clear what they are. AT&T, which bought DirecTV last year, isn’t providing details about prices, which channels or video will be available, or whether there will be any content blackouts on mobile devices or computers when you step outside your house.
The company wants to launch an Internet TV offering that replicates a lot of what’s in the traditional big bundle of channels, and hopes that approach will appeal to big entertainment companies like Twenty-First Century Fox and Disney.
The plans as spelled out by AT&T:
- DIRECTV Now
“The company plans to offer a range of content packages, including much of what is available from DIRECTV today – on-demand and live programming from many networks, plus premium add-on options. Customers will be able to access the service over a wired or wireless Internet connection and on Internet-enabled devices. Consumers can simply sign-up for the service, download the app and begin watching.”
- DIRECTV Mobile
“This affordable offer will deliver a mobile-first user experience for people wanting to watch premium video and made-for-digital content directly on a smartphone, regardless of the wireless provider. Consumers can start watching video immediately after the same simple sign-up and app-download process.”
- DIRECTV Preview
“This free offer for anyone with a wired or wireless Internet connection will feature some of the quality programming available on DIRECTV today. The tailored ad-supported service will showcase content from AT&T’s AUDIENCE Network, many networks and other content sources, and millennial-focused video from Otter Media, a joint venture of AT&T and The Chernin Group.”
Some other Web TV services have had trouble getting off the ground. A hoped-for Apple TV streaming service hasn’t materialized, having reportedly hit roadblocks in negotiations with channels. Sony launched a TV service, Vue, last year with many popular channels, but not those owned by Disney, like ESPN and Disney Channel. It had said in November that it was adding them.
The industry shift to ditch equipment that adds to the cost of TV service comes as a growing number of people cancel their traditional TV subscriptions. Young people are considered especially unlikely to pay for a bundle of hundreds of channels that can easily cost $70 and more each month.
Over the past year, rival cable and satellite companies have introduced TV-watching apps aimed at millennials. Dish Network’s Sling TV has channels that work whether you’re in the house or not, but some programs have been blacked out. Offerings from cable companies have rights issues that make some channels unavailable when you leave your house and, for now, are available only in a few regions. Comcast’s Stream also doesn’t work on TV.
Competition is increasing as phone companies want to be video hubs, too. T-Mobile lets you watch video from dozens of providers, including HBO Now, Netflix and Hulu, without using up data on your plan. Verizon exempts its own video app, which has some full-length TV episodes.
Dallas-based AT&T Inc. said it is planning packages that have “much of what is available from DirecTV today” as well as a more limited service that only works on phones and a free offering with ads.
AT&T has a “number of programmers on board and we’re continuing discussions with others,” said AT&T executive Tony Goncalves. He said that AT&T has a “programmer-friendly approach” because it wants to put so many channels online.
Asked if ESPN channels were going to be included in the new AT&T packages, spokeswoman Amy Phillips said ESPN was “having productive conversations, but we have nothing to announce at this time.”