AT&T is now actively inviting DIRECTV NOW subscribers to test out the company’s highly-anticipated streaming box for free. Technically speaking, the company has yet to offer access to the box but instead has sent out emails to DIRECTV NOW subscribers offering the option to register their interest in joining the testing process and in doing so adding themselves to the waitlist. The emails are understood to have been sent out this morning and therefore DIRECTV NOW users interested will likely want to check their inbox to see if they have been ‘selected.’
This follows on from the comments made last month during the company’s earnings call by AT&T’s Communication CEO, John Donovan where Donovan confirmed the new box has entered a beta testing state along with the expectation the box will arrive to market during the first half of next year. A time-frame which is likely still firmly on track considering the company has now moved to what seems to be a more public testing phase. Even more so since the emails specifically make reference to a six-month testing period which suggests the box is likely to arrive towards the end of H1, 2019.
What is probably also of interest in terms of this latest development is the promotional image (shown above) that’s provided within the new emails, as it offers a much cleaner look at the overall end product, compared to the FCC images that emerged previously. While the new box itself does not provide anything too revealing, the remote control shown does confirm the inclusion of Google Assistant support due to the dedicated Assistant ‘mic’ button that’s on show. Which highly indicates that not only will users be able to engage the assistant for feedback on questions, but will also likely be usable to control and navigate the actual interface, as well as other connected and compatible smart devices around the home.
Background: The “Osprey” box, as it had been referenced in the user manual made available in the previous FCC filings, has been a long time in the works considering the filings first emerged more than a year ago. Since then, the news on the new AT&T box has been a little limiting, although that has changed in the recent weeks with what seems to be an uptick in activity on AT&T’s part. An increase in activity that's likely to continue going forward if the device is only six months away from a market-ready state and full launch.
Providing nothing has majorly changed with the box since the first filings went live then most of the hardware details are already known. For example, the box will come equipped with 2GB RAM, 8GB storage, and powered by a Broadcom BRCM 7271 SoC. In addition, the box is highly expected to come running on the Android TV platform (even more so considering the somewhat confirmation of Google Assistant support) and will be relatively open to the user allowing them to install apps from the Google Play Store. Making it fundamentally different from the likes of the upcoming Comcast streaming box that’s now expected to be locked down in some respects to force the user towards the company’s own solutions. Based on the recent comments made by AT&T, and the various design points that have come to light, it would seem the company is taking a far more open approach with its solution.
Impact: Although it’s always good to see new streaming boxes arriving to market, this one does come with a clear agenda in mind and that is to keep AT&T from hemorrhaging subscribers of its standard DIRECTV service - like it has been over the past few months. Especially in light of while many have left the traditional version of the service, AT&T has seen big gains with its web-based version of the service in recent months, further adding support to the suggestion AT&T is likely to benefit greatly from additional investment in the streaming side of the business. This is in addition to the box also offering the ability for the company to drastically reduce its operating costs at the same time due to its nature as a self-install box which does not require technicians to come out to a property for expert installation. Which also means no need for booking of appointments with AT&T or additional equipment beyond the actual box which can simply be connected to an existing Wi-Fi network - AT&T’s or otherwise. The grander idea is this box will radically change the way in which its service operates to the point where AT&T will begin transitioning its remaining DIRECTV subscribers over to the new box - and presumably the NOW version of its service in due course.
Although the actions and comments aired so far do point towards a more open streaming solution, the agenda is still very much in play at the operations level. For example, one of the fundamental differences between this box and genuine open solutions is that the user will be forced into DIRECTV NOW each time the box is turned on. Therefore, the DIRECTV NOW interface will be the default setting compared to other options where the platform’s operating system assumes the launch interface with the option to access the likes of DIRECTV NOW through a corresponding app. This evidently means that although the box will provide additional functionality through third-party services (with no current word on exclusions), it’s probably not the best option for those consumers who are less likely to use or stick with AT&T’s video and live TV streaming service in the future.
For those who do happen to be DIRECTV NOW customers, however, and do plan to continue using the company’s service for the foreseeable future, this is likely to be a far better solution than what they are currently using. Especially considering the DIRECTV NOW app is still largely absent from a number of TV-centric platforms and products - another element that seems intentional on AT&T’s behalf to maintain some control over how users access its service, while also paving the way for a more successful launch of this DIRECTV NOW streaming box.