DIRECTV NOW and Sling Cloud DVR Take OTT Further

In a world where traditional cable and satellite services compete with apps, services, and “skinny bundles” from a variety of companies, the most interesting thing about yesterday’s announcements about DIRECTV NOW and Sling Cloud DVR is that both came from services that are part of major media purveyors.
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In a world where traditional cable and satellite services compete with apps, services, and “skinny bundles” from a variety of companies, the most interesting thing about yesterday’s announcements about DIRECTV NOW and Sling Cloud DVR is that both came from services that are part of major media purveyors.

Previously teased about and long expected, the first of the two announcements came from AT&T Entertainment Group’s DirecTV. Starting on Wednesday, November 30, their DIRECTV NOW service will be available with a wide range of content channels from established providers, local broadcast channels, and targeted “social-first entertainment.”

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Competing with OTT services such as Sling and Sony’s PlayStation Vue, DIRECTV NOW is not just another streaming service to complement the existing DirecTV business. According to John Stankey, CEO of AT&T Entertainment Group, the new service, promoted under the banner of “Let Freedom Stream,” will be “the foundation for what we do in the future.” He went on to state that DIRECTV NOW will give AT&T “full control over the full stack” and that the initial offering is just the start of new services, content, and business.

Claiming that 50 percent of their current customers use something other than “a TV on the wall” and that more than 20 million TV households are not in the pay TV ecosystem, mobile and more millennial customers are clearly the target.

The four price tiers range from $35 per month to $70 per month, with HBO and Cinemax as add-ons for $5 each. The pricing is, for the most part, slightly below Sling and Vue, but a complete analysis must wait until the Wednesday launch for a full comparison. During an unspecified introductory period, however, the $60 “Go Big” tier, with more than 100 channels, will be priced at $35 per month, giving the new service a major discount position against its competitors. Pointing to a personalized, rules-free service, there will be no contracts or credit checks.

Notably missing from the channel line-ups are CBS and Showtime, though they are also not available on the other platforms, as CBS restricts its network content outside of the CBSN streaming channel and select local stations to its CBS All Access service. Nonetheless, DirecTV EVP of marketing Brad Bentley, offered, “we’re working on it.” Other services missing from DirecTV and U-Verse are also absent on DIRECTV NOW, particularly the LA Dodgers and the Pac12 Networks. Although referred to in the introductions as evidence of AT&T’s technical prowess, 4K will not be available at launch.

A special set-top box is needed for the service. At launch, compatible devices will be Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick, Android mobile devices, iPhone/iPad, Apple TV, Google Chromecast and Google Cast-enabled LeEco and Vizio displays, and Internet Explorer, Chrome, and Safari browsers. Roku streaming players and TV sets, Samsung Smart TVs, and Amazon Fire tablets will be added to the compatible-device roster in 2017.

Complementing service availability, promotional incentives include a free Apple TV with three-month prepaid subscription or an Amazon Fire TV Stick with a one-month pre-paid subscription. Free trial subscriptions range one month with the purchase of an Intel-based Lenovo laptop and three to 12 months with a LeEco TV. As an additional incentive, and evidencing the tie to the corporate parent, AT&T Mobility customers have the use of unlimited data for DIRECTV NOW streaming, exempting it from data caps.

Suffice it to say that this is a no-holds-barred entry intended to shake up the market and capture share from a wide variety of content provider options.

Not to be outdone on a hot news day for the streaming world, Sling TV had a major announcement of its own. Earlier in the day, before the big AT&T announcement, the OTT streaming service owned by DirecTV’s arch rival Dish Networks announced that it would be offering a Cloud DVR program. Available initially to existing Sling customers with a Roku player or Roku TV who request an invitation, the program will start in December.

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Sling's Cloud DVR interface

A key feature of Sling’s Cloud DVR option is that there will be no “28-day restriction” for content storage, as is the case with competitor PlayStation’s Vue. Sling customers will be able to record and store up to 100 hours of content on multiple programs simultaneously, with no recording conflicts.

Full DVR functionality, including pause, rewind, and fast-forward will be available on many, but not all content channels; some channels will be basic record/store/playback only. Which channels will offer full DVR control was not available at this time.

Noting that the beta program is just the start, Sling expects to add additional streaming device compatibility and storage capacity, based on the results of the trial run.

While both concepts and services will be sold direct to consumers only, they do bring an additional rationale to consumers looking to purchase a standalone streaming device or select “Smart TV” brands and models. Of course, as the spread of additional Wi-Fi-centric devices in a home further strains home networks, they also provide additional incentives to promote upgraded Wi-Fi hardware and installation.

Going into the heart of the holiday selling season, the growth of OTT offerings on multiple fronts can only serve to expand the market on a number of levels.

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