Like anyone who’s been paying attention, AT&T knows that the future of TV lies beyond the cable box and satellite dish. To make sure it keeps up, the company said today that it will begin letting you buy and watch cable TV on whatever screen you want with nothing more than an Internet connection.
“These new video subscription models reflect the flexible content choices, viewing options and simple, transparent pricing that consumers want, ” John Stankey, CEO of the AT&T Entertainment Group, said in a statement. “These offers will provide a broad range of customers with greater freedom and choice to watch, binge, and even buy premium content, regardless of how and where they enjoy their entertainment.”
AT&T may be taking a major step towards a future where TV moves beyond TV—not only for consumers but for the television business itself.
This is a pretty big deal. To watch live TV, you’ve long had to either have an antenna to pick up local channels or pay hefty fees to get a wider slate of premium channels via a cable box or satellite dish. Sure, some events stream online, but live TV (and some on-demand shows) have largely remained the domain of traditional cable.
AT&T is now looking to offer some content to you without an annual contract, satellite dish, or set-top box. The company says you’ll be able to buy the service even if you don’t have AT&T as your Internet or cell phone provider and even if AT&T-owned DirecTV isn’t offered in your area. While the company hasn’t said what channels or content it will be providing, it has announced three different services: DirecTV Now, DirecTV Mobile, and DirecTV Preview.
The company says that DirecTV Now, the most costly option, will allow you to watch much of what’s available from DirecTV. DirecTV Mobile will be a slightly slimmer, more affordable option for those who want a mobile-first experience. DirecTV Preview will be a free, ad-supported service with the fewest options and “made-for-digital content” exclusive to DirecTV.
TV Beyond TV
These new streaming options have long been in the works, AT&T spokesman Fletcher Cook says, and streaming to all kinds of mobile devices was on executives’ minds when AT&T acquired DirecTV last year. DirecTV currently offers hundreds of channels, including HBO, Showtime, and, exclusively the NFL Sunday Ticket package. While Cook did not elaborate on what channels will be included, he says the company has been in active talks with many different programmers.
And deals with the networks themselves will be crucial. If DirecTV Now offers no more than what so-called cord-cutters or cord-nevers can already get online, the service likely won’t attract whole flocks of new cable TV subscribers. But if it can offer an affordable service to those who want to get TV over the Internet (perhaps in a way similar to Dish’s Sling TV), AT&T may be taking a major step towards a future where TV moves beyond, well, TV—not only for consumers but for the television business itself.
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