AT&T announced yesterday that it had signed a carriage agreement with Viacom for a number of channels to be included in its new slimmed-down TV package, DirecTV Now. The agreement includes a number of Viacom networks, including MTV, Comedy Central, VH1, CMT, Logo, BET, Nickelodeon, Nick at Nite, Nick Jr., Spike, TV Land and Viva.
This is the latest announcement in a steady stream of agreements that AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) has forged over the summer with other major cable companies, such as
NBC Universal , Discovery Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: DISCA, DISCB, DISCK), Scripps Networks , A+E Networks and Turner. The company estimates that DirecTV Now will offer content from 100-plus channels at launch. (See Will the 'Slim' TV Business Model Really Retain Cord-Cutters? and TT Poll: Slim TV Targets Millennial Devices.)
This follows on the heels of last week's announcement from skinny-bundle-competitor PlayStation Vue, which added HBO and Cinemax to its line-up. Both are available as standalone options, at $15 per month, or can be added to subscribers of the Vue Elite plan, for an additional $20 (for both). The HBO Now app has also been launched on the PlayStation 3 and 4 consoles. Vue subscribers with HBO get it for free; others will have to pay $15 per month.
Meanwhile, Hulu LLC announced that it was lowering the subscription price of its hybrid service (with ads included) from $7.99 to $5.99 per month. This is a one-year promotion aimed only at new subscribers. This makes it $4 less than a basic Netflix subscription ($9.99) and $3 less than Amazon Video ($8.99 if purchased separately from the $99 per year Amazon Prime subscription). This could be an attempt by Hulu to grow its subscriber base and generate attention prior to the launch of its own slimmed-down TV service, which is scheduled to launch in 2017.
Earlier in September, the Sling TV service from Dish Network LLC (Nasdaq: DISH) added college football to its line-up with the addition of Pac-12 Networks. This is in addition to the NFL Network and RedZone it added earlier in the year. It also added Starz and Starz Encore at the same time, offering both free for the first week. And it launched a new app aimed at Windows 10 devices, with a new user interface, Cortana voice integration, Live Tiles, and touch compatibility.
But network operators aren't necessarily standing still when it comes to "full-fat" TV bundles either. Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) had previously launched its own slimmed-down TV service, Stream TV, and plans to extend it to other markets moving forward. But its management has questioned the overall demand for OTT services, and it is also buttressing its full-fat package with multiscreen user experience improvements. (See Comcast's Gatzke Evaluates Slim TV Models and Is Comcast Right to Reject OTT?)
In an attempt to better integrate its pay-TV service with additional devices, Comcast has redesigned its Xfinity TV app and web portal to help access its TV Everywhere services, DVR recordings, and live TV and on-demand content available via the subscriber's home network. This simplifies subscribers' access to all the content included in their subscriptions, both at home and outside.
Xfinity TV subscribers now have access to more than 125 live channels, with additional improved features. Comcast is also developing an improved Watchlist for the app and web portal.
In developments that can only be good for consumers, we are finally seeing an all-out assault on the traditional TV bundle. While it's not quite the à la carte version that subscribers have been asking for, we are finally seeing efforts to create a more attractive selection of channels for consumers. Over time, perhaps increasing competition will force further disruption, and in turn greater content packaging flexibility, until we get to a full à la carte scenario.
But it's also entirely possible that subscribers of slimmer bundles will find they miss some of the content they used to watch, and end up returning to full-fat bundles.
— Aditya Kishore, Practice Leader, Video Transformation, Telco Transformation