In the interest of stirring up some hopefully lively conversion, I thought I'd post here my predictions for where the DirecTV satellite and DirecTV Now streaming services, along with Uverse TV and HBO, are headed this year. Please note that this is all my own personal speculation, albeit based on lots of publicly available data points and AT&T-provided statements over the past year or so. I'll come back later on this year and take my kicks for whatever predictions end up proving wrong. ;-)
DirecTV Now --> AT&T TV (streaming TV)
DirecTV (satellite TV)
DirecTV Now --> AT&T TV (streaming TV)
- This August, AT&T will unveil a "new" OTT streaming TV service called AT&T TV, which, as the name implies, will be their main flagship multichannel pay TV service. It will be very similar to the existing DirecTV Now service and will replace it. (This might happen any time between roughly July 1 and Sept 30, but I'm going to say August is the mostly likely time when AT&T TV debuts.)
- AT&T TV will offer three main channel packages: Starter, Plus and Max. Plus and Max are currently already available through DirecTV Now, although those packages will contain some additional channels than they do now by the time they're offered through AT&T TV.
- Starter will be an entirely new package priced at $30 and contain pretty much the same 35+ channels now available on AT&T WatchTV, but it will also include HBO. Note that this package does not include any local broadcast networks (e.g. ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox) or all-sports channels (e.g. ESPN, FS1, NBCSN, etc.).
- Plus and Max are more mainstream cable channel packages. Both include locals and HBO, while Max also includes Cinemax and some additional sports and entertainment channels, including RSNs. They will sell for their current regular prices of $50 and $70 (with no additional fees for broadcast or RSN channels). About a month ago, DirecTV Now began offering a $20 discount off of each for the first three months. Just this week, they changed that to $15 off for the first two months. By August, those deals will have lapsed. Plus and Max will still both include HBO (and Max will still include Cinemax too). They'll have all the same channels they currently do, but by that time, AT&T will also have added popular channels from A+E Networks (A&E, History, Lifetime), Discovery Networks (HGTV, Discovery, Food, Travel, ID), and AMC Networks (AMC, IFC, BBCAmerica) to Plus and Max. If PBS stations aren't included at the launch of AT&T TV, they'll be added at some point in the coming year as they generally become available on streaming cable TV services (vMVPDs).
- All plans (with the possible exception of Starter) will come with 20 hours of cloud DVR storage, with recordings auto-deleting after 30 days. As currently on DirecTV Now, you'll be able to FF in all recordings from any channel, including past ads. (Ad-free premium channels still won't be recordable though, but that doesn't matter much since all their content is available on-demand.)
- You can upgrade to 100 (or maybe 120) total hours of cloud DVR storage for an extra $10/mo. The auto-delete period will either be lengthened or entirely dropped for the upgraded cloud DVR.
- Niche cable channels that aren't included in Starter, Plus and Max will be offered in the form of add-on packs that can be added to one of those base packages. Showtime, Starz, Cinemax and Epix will be offered as a la carte premium add-ons.
- Like now with DirecTV Now, each subscription will allow 2 simultaneous steams on any combination of devices, whether in or out of home. Each additional simultaneous stream will cost an extra $5/mo. Streams can be accessed on AT&T's own box (see below) or through their app on other devices; how the stream is accessed makes no difference in terms of the simultaneous stream limit.
- AT&T's optional 4K HDR Android TV-powered set-top-box and remote (code-named the "C71 Osprey" or "DirecTV Now Beta Box") will be sold directly to customers (likely for $60-80 each). The rumor is that AT&T wants to get out of the STB rental business. I definitely expect AT&T will give a lot of them away as promotional items to new subscribers. Perhaps AT&T TV subscribers who prepay for 2 months will get 1 box for free, or prepay for 4 months and get 2 boxes for free. AT&T Internet/Fiber subscribers who bundle in AT&T TV may get 2 free boxes without the need to prepay anything.
- Rather than having long-term commitments and first-year reduced pricing (as has been the norm with DirecTV and possibly Uverse TV), AT&T TV will be sold at a "no-games-playing" everyday standard price with no up-front commitment. The free boxes will be the up-front bonus for certain customers rather than Visa gift cards. (I still expect folks getting AT&T Internet/Fiber, which does require a 1-year commitment, plus TV to score up-front Visa gift cards, though.)
- Unless you're getting AT&T Internet/Fiber installed at the same time, the TV box will be a simple self-install option that is shipped to you by UPS/FedEx. (WAY cheaper for AT&T than a satellite TV installation!) For those who can't even connect a box to their TV and wifi, AT&T will send one of their in-home sales consultants to help you out (and also "helpfully" try to sell you other AT&T services while they're there).
- Netflix and YouTube will come pre-loaded on the box, along with the Google Play app store, which by that time should offer the Amazon Prime Video app for Android TV. You can definitely expect the upcoming on-demand streaming service from AT&T's WarnerMedia (called HBO Max or HBO+) to be integrated into the box too. Like regular HBO, a subscription to HBO Max will be non-optionally included in Starter, Plus and Max for no additional cost. (See below for more info on HBO Max.)
- Although it will be available to anyone with home broadband from any provider (e.g. Comcast, Verizon, Charter, etc.), bundling this service with AT&T Internet/Fiber will knock $10 off the combined price and also score you unlimited data from them, i.e. no data cap. (And running the service over AT&T's own network could only make it more reliable, one would think.)
- Uverse TV -- which is only available to homes wired for AT&T Internet/Fiber -- will cease to be sold to new customers. Existing customers will have a long while (couple years) to transition over to the new service before AT&T pulls the plug on Uverse TV. In the meantime, Uverse TV will see no significant changes or improvements.
- When AT&T TV debuts, DirecTV Now will stop allowing new customer sign-ups. AT&T TV will use an app that looks and functions nearly identically but will be a separate app. Existing DirecTV Now customers will be allowed to stay on their current plans at their current prices but will be contacted by email and encouraged to switch to AT&T TV, and may be automatically switched to that service when DirecTV Now shuts down by the end of 2019.
DirecTV (satellite TV)
- New DTV satellite subscribers will only be offered the same 3 channel packages as on the AT&T TV streaming service: Starter (no locals, no sports), Plus (no RSNs) and Max, all of which include HBO. (A DTV OTA tuner will be offered for Starter subscribers to buy, to integrate their free locals.)
- Existing customers will be grandfathered into their current channel packages (Entertainment, Choice, Xtra, etc.) and can keep them indefinitely.
- DirecTV satellite will continue to be sold for several years but AT&T will focus their marketing on rural areas that lack broadband service. Anyone with broadband will have the option to go with the streaming TV service and AT&T will price it cheaper overall to attract consumers in that direction.
- Standard everyday pricing for Starter, Plus and Max will be $30/mo higher on DirecTV than on AT&T TV. Therefore Starter will cost $60, Plus will cost $80 and Max will cost $100.
- Those prices include 4K/HD DVR service (at least 5 tuners, at least ~200 hours of HD storage) for 1 TV.
- Thin-client boxes let additional TVs tap into whole-home DVR for an extra $7/mo for each box/TV.
- Less-popular cable channels that aren't included in Starter, Plus and Max will be available through various add-on channel packs priced $5-10/mo.
- Free professional installation will be offered only to new customers who sign a 24-month agreement. Doing so will also score the subscriber NFL Sunday Ticket for free for the 2019-20 season. (Availability of future seasons TBD.) Signing the agreement also gives the customer a price-lock guarantee on their everyday pricing through all 24 months.
- DTV will no longer automatically offer big promotional giveaways, such as $200 Visa gift cards, for all new subscribers (although such promotions might be offered selectively to certain potential customers, mainly those in areas without broadband service).
- There will no longer be discounts to new subscribers for bundling DTV satellite service with any other AT&T service. (Possible exception: customers who live at an address where AT&T Internet/Fiber is not available may get a discount for bundling DTV satellite with AT&T Wireless or AT&T DSL.)
- Once customers complete their 24-month initial agreement term, they may be eligible for limited-term credits off the cost of monthly service as a retention tool, although I expect that to be used more sparingly than has been the case in the past.
- AT&T will unveil a new OTT streaming subscription video on-demand (SVOD) service this fall named HBO Max. This will be AT&T's attempt to create a broader, bigger SVOD service to compete directly against Netflix. HBO Max will be automatically a part of every cable channel package sold to new subscribers on AT&T TV and DirecTV. It will also be sold as a direct-to-consumer standalone service as well as distributed alongside regular HBO through all major cable TV systems.
- The new HBO Max app will replace the existing HBO Go and HBO Now apps.
- HBO Max will offer two (possibly three) paid subscription tiers. For $14-15, subscribers will get access to the traditional core HBO offering (all of it ad-free). Those who subscribe to just HBO through a cable provider will have access to that same content on-demand in the HBO Max app (i.e. the same stuff now offered in the HBO Go and HBO Now apps).
- For $17-18, subscribers will get access to everything available from HBO Max. In addition to the core HBO content (all ad-free), they will get:
- current and some past content from AT&T's basic cable channels including TBS, TNT, TruTV, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, Boomerang, and CNN (docs/reality only, not news/talk). Examples include The Alienist, Animal Kingdom, The Last O.G., Search Party, Impractical Jokers, The 2000s, Tricky Dick, etc. Turner sports content will not be available.
- current and past seasons of original series from the Cinemax and DC Universe services
- older movies and TV series from the Warner Bros. vault (e.g. Friends, Big Bang Theory, Alice, Bugs Bunny & Looney Tunes, Harry Potter, Batman, Superman, Casablanca, etc.)
- content licensed from outside WarnerMedia, including docs, lifestyle and kids' shows
- new exclusive original content unavailable on any cable channel or other SVOD
- The additional non-HBO/non-Cinemax content in HBO Max will contain limited targeted ads, except for theatrical movies and children's programming, which will always be ad-free. Subscribers may have the option to remove those ads for an additional fee.
- Subscribing to the full HBO Max service will unlock 4K and 4K HDR versions of select content throughout the entire service, including various HBO original series. A core tier ($14-15) HBO subscription will only offer HD content.
- Cinemax will continue to be available as an a la carte service sold through cable TV and streaming providers but since all of Cinemax's original programming and most (if not all) of its currently screening films will be included in the upper tier of HBO Max, subscriptions to Cinemax will substantially decline in the next few years.
- HBO may kill some of their multiplex linear channels, such as HBO 2, HBO Signature, etc. The Plus and Max packages on DirecTV Now only include the three most distinct ones: HBO, HBO Family and HBO Latino. They want to encourage viewers to shift away from watching HBO as "channels" and toward HBO as an on-demand streaming service through the HBO Max app.