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AT&T Scuttling 'DirecTV Now' Brand, Confusion Ensues

Jeff Baumgartner
7/30/2019

Good-bye, DirecTV Now. Hello, AT&T TV Now.

AT&T announced Tuesday that it will soon drop the DirecTV Now name for its OTT-delivered skinny-bundle, cut-rate pay-TV service and rebrand it as AT&T TV Now. That branding change will take effect later this summer as the company moves ahead with the launch of a new, fuller-freight premium pay-TV streaming service called AT&T TV.

The DirecTV Now name is going away, but the OTT-TV product, under the new AT&T TV Now banner, will remain unchanged.
The DirecTV Now name is going away, but the OTT-TV product, under the new AT&T TV Now banner, will remain unchanged.

AT&T launched DirecTV Now in December 2016, more than a year after it wrapped up its $49 billion acquisition of DirecTV in July 2015.

While the DirecTV brand will continue on for the satellite TV service, the company has ultimately decided to use the AT&T brand for its various live, multichannel streaming services.

The rebranding of DirecTV Now and the coming launch of the new AT&T TV service also enter play as AT&T's pay-TV business continues to struggle. It lost 946,000 video subs in Q2 2019, including 778,000 legacy "premium" subs (from the DirecTV satellite TV and the U-verse IPTV services), and 168,000 DirecTV Now customers.

Both the AT&T TV and AT&T TV Now services will be accessed via the same AT&T TV app on mobile and TV-connected devices. AT&T also markets yet another streaming service, AT&T WatchTV, which is a sports-free skinny TV bundle available for free to AT&T's mobile subs or for $15 per month as a standalone service.

AT&T hasn't announced pricing and packaging for the forthcoming, premium-level AT&T TV service, but company CEO Randall Stephenson said last week that it will serve as the "workhorse" for the company's pay-TV business in the coming years. AT&T TV is expected to offer TV channel lineups similar to those currently offered on the DirecTV satellite TV service.

An AT&T spokesperson said via email that AT&T TV will be piloted in "select markets this summer before expanding on a rolling basis throughout the year." Regarding the DirecTV Now rebrand, the idea is to align that experience under the same brand family. "The DirecTV Now product remains unchanged," the official added.

A few AT&T TV details emerge
In an effort to cut down on deployment and customer acquisition costs, AT&T TV will be available via an inexpensive, operator-supplied, 4K-capable Android TV-powered "thin-client" box, as well as through apps developed for various retail streaming platforms.

A new web site for the coming AT&T TV service shows that it will offer a live TV lineup alongside a VoD catalog with about 55,000 titles, and a cloud DVR that can store up to 500 hours of programming (the caveat is that recordings will expire after 90 days). The thin-client Android TV device will also feature a voice remote (powered by Google Assistant) and support thousands of third-party apps, including Netflix and Pandora.

Because it's delivered over-the-top, AT&T TV will require a broadband connection. AT&T is recommending a plan that provides at least 25 Mbit/s -- AT&T TV will allow for three concurrent streams, with 8 Mbit/s per stream deemed the minimum for "optimal viewing."

While AT&T branding will lead the charge on the company's live TV streaming services, AT&T-owned WarnerMedia will be leaning on the HBO brand for a new subscription VoD service. That service, to be called HBO Max, is expected to launch commercially next spring with about 10,000 hours of new and catalog content from various WarnerMedia properties, including HBO, Turner and Warner Bros.

A branding mess
Colin Dixon, chief analyst and founder of nScreenMedia, said he fully understands AT&T's motives to push ahead with a premium streaming product that uses an inexpensive thin-client device to deeply reduce the costs associated with the DirecTV satellite TV product.

However, the decision to rebrand DirecTV Now and to avoid the use of the DirecTV moniker in the company's other streaming products is "perplexing," he said. "I'm quite confused now…The branding is a mess."

If the plan was to unify the company's various streaming products under one brand, he wonders if AT&T would've been better served by putting it all under the DirecTV banner (DirecTV Stream, anyone?)

"I'm perplexed why they are jettisoning the DirecTV brand [for OTT-TV services]. It's a good brand," he said.

Dixon also isn't crazy about the HBO Max name, either, because it will feature shows and series associated with HBO alongside a mix of content from other sources.

"HBO Max is actually muddying the HBO brand," Dixon said.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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Kelsey Ziser
Kelsey Ziser
7/31/2019 | 10:56:47 AM
Re: Branding Debacle
Clearly the answer to the branding question is "42." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aboZctrHfK8
Jeff Baumgartner
Jeff Baumgartner
7/31/2019 | 8:55:17 AM
Re: Branding Debacle
Speaking of Hitchhiker's, it appears they forgot this lesson. 

 MR.CI Don 't Panic Hitchhiker's Guide Vinyl Decal Sticker | Cars Trucks Walls Laptops Cups | Black | 6.5 inches | KCD841

And it's not clear if anyone there remembered to pack a towel. 
James_B_Crawshaw
James_B_Crawshaw
7/31/2019 | 1:20:44 AM
Re: Branding Debacle
I am reminded of the scene in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy when the marketing executive presents the wheel to the leader of the surviving humans on earth after an apocalype: "We're having a little difficulty there."

"Difficulty?" exclaims Ford (actually not from earth). "Difficulty? What do you mean difficulty? It's the single simplest machine in the entire Universe!"

The marketing executive sours him with a look. "Alright, Mr. Wiseguy, if you're so clever, you tell us what colour it should be."

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EVkYaZXCl8U
Phil Harvey
Phil Harvey
7/30/2019 | 7:06:53 PM
Re: Branding Debacle
I agree with Jeff in that DirecTV has always meant "live, pay-TV." The AT&T name has never had anything to do with entertainment or video. 

This might be a way of giving them an umbrella brand to stuff all the failed U-verse products into. I'm wondering if they'll be now messaging all U-verse customers and telling them their pay-TV product is now AT&T Whatever.
Jeff Baumgartner
Jeff Baumgartner
7/30/2019 | 4:53:59 PM
Re: Branding Debacle
I'd be in that camp too -- for a TV service of any kind, DirecTV seems like the stronger brand to me (for reasons that escape me, AT&T did not seek my advice on that one). 

Some might say, 'Well,  DirecTV's brand is old and represents old technology (satellite TV)." But I'd counter that it's still a fresh-faced kid in all aspects when put up against the much longer in the tooth brand of AT&T...and people still connect DirecTV with TV service. 

And as DirecTV's satellite TV sub base continues to erode, what exactly did AT&T really end up buying? A dying pay-TV service provider and a brand that it won't put to full use? I can think of better ways to spend tens of billions of dollars. 

And there's still going to be lots of confusion about how AT&T TV Now and AT&T TV will mesh and differ. While AT&T TV Now will mirror what DirecTV Now is today (limited skinny bundles), we still don't know for sure what AT&T TV will be until they launch pricing and packaging.

My guess is that at some point they will wrap it all under the AT&T TV service brand and then present a variety of channel packages -- fat, skinny and everything in between.

But in the meantime they are leaving it up to consumers to solve the riddle on what they can get (or can't get) from this multitude of options.  Given the state of the US pay-TV market, leaving it to consumers to figure it out against a vast array of very solid competitors (both OTT and traditional) sure seems to layer on a bunch of unnecessary  risk. JB 

 
Kelsey Ziser
Kelsey Ziser
7/30/2019 | 3:13:31 PM
Branding Debacle
I agree w/Colin Dixon - the DirecTV brand carries a lot of weight. Why change it? Also I think that's weird to refer to the premium package as the "workhorse." Whatever...as long as I can keep watching Bravo TV until I die.
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