The latest evidence that wireless carriers will fuel a boom in unlimited mobile video viewing came this morning with AT&T announcing a new plan that gives new and existing AT&T wireless subscribers who already have or who add either DirecTV or U-Verse TV service unlimited video on their smartphone for $100/month. Options are available for adding more smartphones and tablets for additional fees. AT&T also said it was the “first of many integrated video and mobility offers the company plans to announce in 2016.”
Wireless carriers’ capped data plans have meant that subscribers needed to meticulously monitor their usage as they watched data-intensive video in order to avoid costly overage charges and also to aggressively search out WiFi hotspots. As wireless carriers have migrated to unlimited text and talk, data has become a key source of incremental, usage-based revenue.
AT&T’s new unlimited plan (and others that will follow) was no doubt contemplated in the strategy behind the DirecTV acquisition, but it’s hard to believe its timing wasn’t influenced by the introduction of T-Mobile’s “Binge On” feature last November. Binge On initially allowed unlimited streaming of 24 different video services (e.g. Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Showtime, etc.) and was broadened last week to include another 14 services (e.g. A&E, Lifetime, CuriosityStream, Newsy, PlayStation Vue, etc.).
Since its launch, Binge On has gained notoriety for allegedly “throttling” or diminishing the quality of all video services, not just those that participate in Binge On (the EFF published its own testing data on this last week). YouTube has been the most vocal in objecting T-Mobile’s approach, which in turn prompted T-Mobile CEO John Legere to post a response (ironically on YouTube, see below) last week trying to set the record straight. In the video, Legere says, among other things, “…there are people out there saying we’re throttling, that’s a game of semantics and it’s bullshit.” Binge On has also come under scrutiny by critics who believe it is violating net neutrality.
Legere’s impassioned defense of Binge On and its apparent success in driving more mobile video usage, coupled with AT&T unlimited announcement this morning (and assuming Verizon and Sprint follow suit soon), all suggest that video is becoming a new focus in the intense wireless carrier wars. As we saw previously with the movement from capped talk and text plans to unlimited, once these battles begin, consumers ultimately win. They’ll be able to watch more video on their smartphones and tablets without it costing an arm and a leg.
To date, wireless broadband has been a very expensive way to watch video when compared to wired broadband. But wireless carriers look like they’re eager to change the equation and enable a dramatic increase in mobile video use. That would be the foundation for yet more change in the broader online video landscape.