Alterations are afoot for HBO beneath its new corporate overlords at AT&T. But what these adjustments could possibly be are nonetheless anyone’s guess.
Immediately after longtime HBO CEO Richard Plepler abruptly resigned final week, AT&T executives went on a media tour to speak about the channel’s future, take shots at Netflix, and hint at the streaming service AT&T plans to launch this year. Nonetheless, these interviews didn’t reveal considerably in the way of specifics. If something, AT&T and HBO’s streaming plans look even murkier than they did a week ago.
Here’s what I’m nonetheless scratching my head more than:
Will AT&T launch a streaming service this year?
The timing of AT&T’s direct-to-customer streaming service, which will combine content material from HBO, Turner , and Warner Bros., appears a bit fluid. Final October, AT&T mentioned it would launch the service in 2019. A month later, the enterprise began describing the 2019 launch as a “beta” version, and it noted final month that new original programming will not arrive till 2020. Earlier this week, Bob Greenblatt, the new head of AT&T’s WarnerMedia unit, told Range that launching the beta in 2019 is “what we hope to do,” suggesting a lingering degree of uncertainty.
Thoughts you, this is the very same enterprise that launched its “Next-Generation” version of DirecTV Now a half-year later than initially intended, that nonetheless hasn’t expanded DirecTV Now’s DVR selections (soon after saying it would do so final summer time), and hasn’t delivered on promised DirecTV Now options such as 4K resolution and mobile video downloads. The notion that this new streaming service could possibly also fall behind schedule is not unthinkable.
Is the 3-tier pricing strategy set in stone?
Though AT&T hasn’t announced precise pricing for its direct-to-customer streaming service, executives have described a 3-tier technique that contains motion pictures for a low cost, originals and far more films (presumably from HBO) for a medium cost, and a bundle of further films, comedies, and little ones programming from Turner’s and Warner’s catalogs for a greater cost.
This method is with out precedent in the on-demand streaming planet, and it is reminiscent of the sort of setup individuals are attempting to leave behind with cable. Perhaps that is why Greenblatt hedged a bit when Range asked him for specifics on these plans. “How it will be tiered and all of that is nonetheless in the operating stages,” he mentioned. Probably he’ll impress upon AT&T that its original vision is not the wisest notion.
Can AT&T get excellent at generating apps in nine months?
Application has in no way been a sturdy suit for either HBO or AT&T. The former’s HBO Now apps are a chore to navigate, and they nonetheless lack table-stakes streaming service options such as customized suggestions and user profiles. AT&T’s DirecTV Now apps also lack profiles and personalization (once again, even even though AT&T place these options on its public roadmap mid-2017), and every single portion of its app apart from the grid-primarily based channel guide feels clunky.
It is unclear whether or not AT&T will roll its new service into these current apps or commence from scratch. Either way, the enterprise has a lot of perform to do in not considerably time.
How considerably content material will AT&T pull from other platforms?
John Stankey, the head of AT&T’s WarnerMedia division, has previously recommended that Netflix and other rivals will see their catalogs shrink as AT&T pulls licensed motion pictures and Television shows back to its personal solutions. But when these moves could possibly make AT&T’s service far more compelling, they also represent a enormous threat for a enterprise with $180 billion of debt that is attempting to spend off $20 billion of it this year.
The require for quick-term revenues could possibly clarify why AT&T took $100 million from Netflix to exclusively license Good friends by means of 2019. It could also clarify why, as Redef’s Matthew Ball points out, AT&T executives have began to waffle on whether or not they’d give up that sort of effortless money in the future. “Part of me would appreciate to have [Friends] exclusive on the service but I’m not certain that is the appropriate answer however,” Greenblatt told The Hollywood Reporter this week. AT&T could possibly be realizing that the purpose Good friends is preferred appropriate now is simply because it has Netflix to lean on, not vice versa. That mentality could definitely extend to other motion pictures and shows that are even significantly less of a draw.
How considerably of a liability is AT&T’s economic predicament?
The underlying situation with all these queries is AT&T’s aforementioned debt, accrued largely from purchasing DirecTV for $48.five billion in 2015 and Time Warner for $85 billion earlier this year. AT&T’s quick target is to concentrate on profitability, so it can spend down that debt, which is why CEO Randall Stephenson told the Wall Street Journal in January that “2019 candidly is the money year.”
At the very same time, AT&T’s John Stankey not too long ago told The Hollywood Reporter that he desires the company’s solutions to be in 60- to 70 % of U.S. residences. Increasing a streaming service to that level of adoption will need big investments in content material and aggressive pricing, which signifies AT&T’s development and profitability objectives are fundamentally at odds.
What does all this imply for you?
To bring it residence for cord-cutters, all these queries quantity to lots of uncertainty more than how you will access HBO and other AT&T content material in the future. Will HBO Now exist as a standalone $15-per-month streaming service subsequent year, or will rates alter as AT&T rolls that content material into its new service? Will you nonetheless be capable to add an HBO subscription to Amazon Prime, or will AT&T pull the channel’s content material back into its personal siloed apps? And if you love watching WarnerMedia-owned shows like Good friends, or motion pictures like The Dark Knight on Netflix, how considerably longer will that be an solution?
Suitable now, AT&T does not look to have the answers.
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