U.S. wireless carrier AT&T made waves earlier this week with the big reveal of its new DirecTV Now mobile TV and video streaming product.
Initial details indicated the setup would include more than 100 channels of live television and come with a base price of $35. But AT&T on Monday said it would offer the service in four tiers: a $35 per month option offering 60+ channels, a $50 level offering 80+ channels, a $60 tier offering 100+ channels, and a $70 option offering 120+ channels. DirecTV Now will also be available across a range of devices, including iOS and Android smartphones, tablets, TVs, and laptops, and will allow up to two simultaneous streams.
Company executives said during a launch event they’re targeting some of the 20 million households that are not currently part of the pay TV ecosystem, and noted their wireless business could benefit via a boost in customers who see the pros of switching carriers to get zero-rated data for the service.
But is DirecTV Now enough? Will it meet consumer expectations? What kind of impact will it have on AT&T’s wireless business?
Over the course of this week, there has been no shortage of answers to these questions.
According to Recon Analytics’s Roger Entner, AT&T has come out with a good package.
“I think the offer meets or even exceeds expectations,” Entner said. “$5 for HBO was certainly not expected. Nice channel lineup, competitive prices, good software app. It certainly disrupts the TV guys.”
In addition to shaking up the TV space, Entner noted the offering will also have an impact in wireless. Entner said the move will “make cable’s entry into wireless a lot harder,” and will also likely help AT&T gain wireless subscribers in the long term.
“Over time it should help the wireless adds, especially if you want to watch TV on the go in HD,” he said. “It could be tie breaker for a lot of people. People can watch DirecTV Now using free data from AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint, which means it actually disrupts Verizon on the wireless side.”
Wells Fargo Senior Analyst Jennifer Fritzsche delivered a similar verdict in a Tuesday research note, predicting DirecTV Now won’t impact Sprint and T-Mobile nearly as much as it will Verizon.
“For VZ the ‘narrative’ has admittedly gotten to be a harder one,” Fritzsche wrote. “With the [Yahoo] deal somewhat in flux, we would not be surprised if T’s recent moves (with this OTT launch and announced TWX deal) push VZ toward a more transformational path/potential acquisition. T clearly has a compelling story as to how to upsell the high end mobile user … T is clearly trying to dip its toe in the content area (even before signing the papers on TWX). With exclusive Taylor Swift (‘Tay Tay’ as she is referred to in my house) and Reese Witherspoon’s new initiative, T’s clear call is that content is moving beyond the traditional media definition. We would expect this theme to be on steroids once it closes on TWX (expected late next year).”
Still, Fritzsche noted Verizon maintains a strong position when it comes to network, which she said is “still a key factor in the wireless game.”
Syntonic CEO Gary Greenbaum said he was “encouraged” by AT&T’s DirecTV Now roll out since it will help provide over-the-top video to AT&T subscribers without hitting their data plans. As carriers increasingly position themselves as content players, Greenbaum said we can expect to see more products like this one.
“Content is king in today’s world and AT&T is bringing forth an innovative way for people to consume content on their devices,” Greenbaum said. “As mobile carriers position themselves as content providers, we’ll see similar models like this that better suit consumers’ consumption habits.”
But unlike Entner, Fritzsche, and Greenbaum, MoffettNathanson Senior Analysts Craig Moffett and Michael Nathanson on Tuesday speculated the product might be dangerous to a different player: AT&T itself.
The pair noted the market seemed to have breathed a collective sigh of relief when AT&T unveiled the tiered price structure since it seemed to imply more normal margins than previously predicted, but Moffett and Nathanson said that breath may have come too soon. Based on an analysis of the channels included in each package and their subsequent conclusion that most of the channels the majority of people want are in the $35 bucket – and accounting for the indefinite introductory offer of the 100+ channel tier at $35 – Moffett and Nathanson concluded AT&T will profit very little, if at all, from DirecTV Now.
“Put simply, they aren’t going to make any money,” the pair wrote. “Based on per-channel estimates from SNL Kagan (and bear in mind that these estimates are as of July 2015, and are therefore almost certainly too low), the programming included in the $35 package will run a cool $30 per month … On its surface, a $5 per month gross margin might not sound unreasonably low. But there are additional direct costs beyond programming that must be considered.”
“No, we don’t expect DirecTV Now to be such a runaway hot that it wrecks the market as we know it,” they concluded. “But it would be a mistake to dismiss it as a non-event at its new pricing. It is still dangerous…both to the ecosystem and, most of all, to AT&T itself.”