AT&T Unveils Next-Gen Video Platform

AT&T plans to start testing a new cloud-based platform for its various consumer video services this summer, starting with its DirecTV Now streaming video product and DirecTV mobile app, and launch it commercially before year's end.

AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) announced the next-gen plans Thursday morning, boasting that the new platform will enable it to deliver cloud DVR service to multiple devices, "a broad selection" of live TV channels and up to 30,000 video titles on-demand. Thus, it will shore up a weakness in the current DirecTV Now offering, which, unlike some rival OTT skinny-bundle services, launched without a cloud DVR component last fall.

AT&T said the new platform will also be "delivery-agnostic," allowing it to offer the identical service through all three of its video delivery modes -- satellite, mobile and wired Internet -- instead of through multiple video platforms. In addition, it said the new platform will permit it to offer a consistent look and feel across all the different delivery modes, introduce new features quicker and generally accelerate innovation.

Plans call for adding other key features to the new video offering over the next year, including live TV pausing and parental controls once the service launches commercially later this year. Other new features -- such as user profiles, download and go and 4K/HDR -- are slated to be introduced in 2018.

Further details on the new video platform are still sketchy. But it's believed to be built on the "software-defined video headend" concept that Toronto-based Quickplay Media, which AT&T bought last year, has been developing. (See AT&T Completes Acquisition of Quickplay and AT&T to Buy Streaming Expert QuickPlay.)

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The announcement of the beta trial comes just a week after the big US telco launched a separate streaming video trial for DirecTV Now in Austin using fixed-wireless 5G technology. In that trial, AT&T is testing how well millimeter-wave (mmWave) spectrum can deliver 5G signals carrying streaming video content at speeds of up to 1 Gbit/s. But an AT&T spokesperson said the new DirecTV Now trial is not related to the 5G trial. (See AT&T Launches 5G Trial With DirecTV Now in Austin and AT&T & Ericsson Stream 5G in Austin.)

The next-gen video platform introduction also comes as AT&T continues to try to push through its proposed $85 billion takeover of Time Warner Inc. (NYSE: TWX). Despite critics' concerns about media consolidation and the Trump Administration's complaints about CNN's political coverage that may torpedo or at least strip down the deal, AT&T officials are counting on the addition of TW's vast array of content to stoke fresh growth for their stagnating video business. (See Does AT&T Deserve Time Warner?)

In the first quarter, which is usually a relatively strong period for pay-TV providers, AT&T shed 233,000 U-verse video subscribers while its DirecTV subscriber numbers were flat compared to Q4. As a result, its video customer base dropped to 25 million. The company, which bragged earlier this year that DirecTV Now picked up 200,000 subscribers in its first month last December, has not updated the numbers for its OTT service since then as it has sought to correct technical problems with the service. But the sub total is not believed to be much higher than that initial figure. (See AT&T: TW Deal Will Light a Fire Under Video Biz .)

— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading

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