AT&T plans to launch a new streaming video device in the first half of next year. The details on this come courtesy of AT&T’s Communication CEO, John Donovan who provided comments during the company’s third-quarter earnings call earlier today - where Donovan also confirmed the company's 5G mobile service will launch in the next few weeks. Besides the confirmation of the launch time-frame, Donovan also confirmed the streaming device is currently in beta testing, which suggests as long as there are no major issues noted, the device could arrive in the early part of the first half of 2019.
Although the details provided today are very limited, reports have come through, including an FCC filing which highlighted AT&T has been working on a streaming device and one that’s likely to arrive powered by Android TV. It has also been expected the device would look to promote the company’s DIRECTV NOW service and this once again seems to have been reaffirmed by Donovan during the earnings call, with Donovan explicitly stating the device uses “the common platform we introduced with DIRECTV NOW.” This adds further weight to the suggestion AT&T plans to get even more serious about TV in 2019, and not only through the introduction of a wider variety of software-based options, but also by providing a fuller and more robust end-to-end solution including new hardware.
Background: It’s no secret that AT&T now places a higher value on the TV sphere as it has been one of the companies that’s shown its colors by invested heavily in the industry of late. Not only did AT&T acquire Time Warner as a means to bolster (and lower costs associated with) its content portfolio, but in addition to its DIRECTV NOW (and of course, DIRECTV) service, AT&T also recently launched a price-friendly streaming service, WatchTV. Yet, that has already proven not to be enough for the company who also recently confirmed it plans to launch another streaming service option in late 2019 - one that will be spearheaded by the content acquired through the Time Warner deal. With this sort of heavy approach to streaming services, it makes sense AT&T would also be looking at a new set-top box to help further cement its position within the streaming sector, while also acting as a means to help transition customers from its traditional DIRECTV service to a streaming-based one.
To be clear, Donovan did not today directly reference Android TV, or for that matter a streaming video device during the earnings call. Instead, Donovan was quoted referring to the company’s “proprietary thin client streaming service.” However, based on the reported information that has come through to date it seems almost a given that this is the Android TV-based streaming device that leaked last year. Especially considering when different parts of the various AT&T announcements that were made today are taken as a whole, the picture becomes even more apparent. For example, as part of AT&T’s third-quarter results press release, the company directly said it recently commenced the beta testing of a “new streaming video device.”
What’s also worthy of noting is that Donovan stated that when it comes to the rolling out of the device, AT&T plans to employ a more “measured” approach. This could mean the company will look to phase the device into the market and is likely looking at the device as a viable long-term solution. If correct, this measured approach would technically be at odds with the approach AT&T has employed with launching its various software-based streaming solutions to date. As almost from day one, these services have been aggressively pushed by the company, both in terms of pricing and availability. Something that’s still in effect today considering AT&T is more than happy to bundle both services as free benefits to those who sign up to the carrier’s more premium wireless cellular plans.
Impact: Reports now routinely come through picking up on the general consumer movement towards cord-cutting, and having more options available to consumers will continually help to drive costs down. So whenever there is the mention of a new streaming option on the horizon it can only be a good thing. At present, it does remain unclear exactly how AT&T plans to release this particular device and whether it will come as mainly an option for customers who are already tied into the AT&T ecosystem or whether it will hit the market as more of an off-the-shelf solution for everyone. Of the two options, the latter is likely to be the best option for AT&T as it’s clear the company does need to do all it can to soften the losses it is, and will continue to see from the decline of its traditional TV solutions. For example, as part of the same third-quarter announcement, AT&T confirmed that its traditional DIRECTV product has seen subscriber losses in the region of 346,000 during the quarter. This is not the first time losses of that magnitude have occurred, but more so a continual reflection of how the traditional media landscape is changing, and not just for AT&T but for all companies involved. In contrast, AT&T confirmed that its streaming alternative, DIRECTV NOW saw 49,000 net adds during the same quarter. Further highlighting that as traditional video subscriptions decline massively, streaming options continue their onward march with even greater levels of adoption. Therefore it makes perfect sense for AT&T to bring to market a new hardware device that’s available to everyone, and especially if it plays very nicely with the company’s DIRECTV NOW product. In fact, it could prove to be the case that this ‘available to everyone’ approach is a further example of how the company plans to adopt a more “measured” approach.
However it launches, the comments made today do seem to suggest AT&T is now pinning its hopes on the streaming device becoming an integral part of the company's video arsenal going forward, with Donovan stating the rolling out of the device is expected to have a positive influence on the company’s earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA). According to Donovan, in a similar way to how WatchTV already has.