Almost a year ago, in a post titled “Video is Quickly Becoming Bait for Wireless Carriers to Lure and Retain Subscribers,” I detailed how big carriers were aggressively discounting and bundling various video services in order to support their wireless businesses.
Last Thursday we got a glimpse of how the “video as bait” strategy is soon going to be taken to a new level. In court testimony concerning AT&T’s proposed acquisition of Time Warner, AT&T’s CEO Randall Stephenson said that in the coming weeks the company would launch a $15/month sports-free skinny bundle dubbed “AT&T Watch.” As CNN reported, the kicker is that for AT&T’s unlimited wireless subscribers, the service would be free. As such, it is the most dramatic example yet of how wireless companies see video as little more than a bonus feature to drive their core businesses.
Of course, it remains to be seen which networks will be included in Watch. But one thing is certain: AT&T will still be paying the monthly carriage fees to the included networks, expenses that will eat into its margin. But the company clearly believes that the cost is worth the benefit of how Watch will help attract and retain unlimited wireless subscribers.
The $15/month Watch service fits in below the starting price of $35/month for AT&T’s DirecTV Now service, which itself has been aggressively promoted by AT&T at just $10/month net of discounts. These bundling promotions helped DirecTV Now significantly grow subscribers in 2017. It’s not clear how AT&T will promote the upcoming Watch service relative to DirecTV Now.
Depending on which networks are included, Watch could also be a close competitor to Philo, the sports-free skinny bundle that has an entry price of $16/month for 37 networks from Discovery, Viacom, A&E, AMC and others.
AT&T has talked a lot about how closing the Time Warner deal would allow it to innovate video services, but between the launch of DirecTV Now and soon Watch, the company is already pursuing a pretty aggressive strategy of reducing the cost of video services and offering consumers more choices. The key driver of AT&T’s innovation is supporting its wireless business. Assuming it closes the deal for Time Warner, I would fully expect its content to play a pivotal role as well.