In the midst of all the Microsoft Windows Phone 7 launch hoopla today, AT&T announced a new offering with potentially significant implications: AT&T Wireless-Windows Phone 7 users will get access to a "U-verse Mobile" app that will allow them to download and watch TV shows on their Windows 7 device for a $9.95 monthly subscription. The twist is that it's not necessary to be a U-verse TV subscriber to be a U-verse mobile subscriber.
By unbundling mobile access from its TV subscriptions, AT&T is in effect using wireless delivery to go over-the-top (OTT) of incumbent pay-TV operators in their incumbent territories. As a result AT&T is bringing new wireless-based competition and expanding the reach of its video service way beyond the limited geographies where its U-verse TV service is offered today.
Of course the big question is exactly what content U-verse mobile subscribers will gain access to. AT&T isn't specifying yet, other than to say customers can "download and watch hit TV shows." Will it be the full channel lineup of the regular U-verse TV service? Or will it be a more limited offering of older broadcast and cable TV shows?
If it's the latter, then U-verse mobile won't be very interesting. But if it's the former, then it would be a realization of what I described over a year ago in "How TV Everywhere Could Turn Cable Operators and Telcos Into Over-the-Top's Biggest Players." In that post I argued that by unbundling TV Everywhere video access from their core video subscription services incumbent pay-TV operators could greatly expand their addressable footprint beyond the cities and towns in which they're currently licensed to operate. AT&T's U-verse mobile service is the same exact concept except delivered over wireless not wired broadband.
In fact, U-verse mobile could well be the leading edge of video services offered nationwide using 4G broadband technology as I just outlined in "Sezmi Expands to Malaysia With YTL Partnership - Template for 4G Carrier Deals in U.S.?" AT&T could offer the combination of mobile and in-home access broadband video access to bring a complete bundle of video services to consumers nationwide. Add in the excitement of video viewing on tablets like the iPad and this type of flexible service would be very appealing, especially if it were priced attractively.
The U-verse for mobile app was included in a longer press release also touting the ability, at last, to use an existing Xbox 360 as the receiver for U-verse TV service, the first time a connected device has been able to do this. For now it's unclear whether AT&T will offer U-verse access via additional connected devices. Regardless, with millions of Xbox owners, this too is a big step forward.
I'll be keeping an eye out next month for when the U-verse mobile app is available. If it has a compelling content lineup for the $9.95/mo rate, it will have significant implications for over-the top delivery and the pay-TV industry.
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