AT&T's Streaming Headaches Continue As Contract Feuds Keep New TV Service Off Amazon, Roku

from the meet-the-new-boss dept

So we've noted repeatedly how AT&T's entry into the video space hasn't gone according to plan. First, the company spent so much money on mergers ($150 billion for Time Warner and DirecTV) in recent years, it effectively crippled itself with debt. Second, the company passed that merger debt on to most of its customers in the form of price hikes, which defeated the whole point of "cutting the TV cord." Third, AT&T launched so damn many confusing streaming brands simultaneously, it even confused the company's own employees.

Collectively, this resulted in AT&T losing 3.43 million TV subscribers last year alone, which certainly wasn't the kind of sector domination executives originally envisioned.

And there's every indication that things might get worse.

As noted, AT&T already offers a very confusing array of TV services: HBO Go, HBO Now, AT&T Now, AT&T TV, AT&T WatchTV, AT&T U-verse (IPTV) and DirecTV (satellite). Last week the company launched yet another streaming platform, HBO Max. But there's trouble in paradise: because of contractual standoffs with Amazon and Roku, the service apparently won't be appearing on either platform at launch. Given Roku is the most popular streaming hardware in America by a pretty wide margin (39% market share in 2019), that's kind of a problem for AT&T:

"Because of unresolved contractual agreements, anyone who has subscribed to HBO through Amazon, Roku, Comcast or a few other partners will be missing out on all that new content. And while HBO Now is effectively being phased out this week, the network will have to keep HBO Go up and running as a zombie service to give Comcast customers a way to stream.

All of this is more than just a branding nightmare. It's also a reminder of how hard it is for even a big network like HBO to transition to streaming. Pundits have long focused on the growing competition within the industry, dubbing it the "streaming wars." However, some of the most consequential conflicts in this new age of television aren't between Netflix, HBO and Disney, but between the streaming services and the tech companies that have quickly become the new intermediaries, controlling the platforms and devices that deliver movies and TV shows to our homes.

It's interesting to see the tables turned on AT&T, a company routinely used to being in the driver's seat. With Roku now so dominant, AT&T now has to deal with dominant gatekeepers to get its content and services seen on platforms, and so far it's not going particularly great. AT&T had already been in a stand off with Roku that involved the company's creatively-named AT&T TV Now service going dark on all Roku devices. That standoff has now extended to HBO Max, which was supposed to be AT&T's attempt at turning its subscriber losses around.

And while a Roku deal is supposedly getting closer, AT&T remains in a standoff with Amazon over licensing that seems more intractable, given Amazon currently takes a 30-50% cut of HBO subscribers via its "channel" approach to offering other platforms' content:

"Roku is said to be close to a deal, but WarnerMedia has been unable to come to an agreement with Amazon. The ecommerce giant has been distributing HBO online through Amazon Channels, a dedicated marketplace for subscription video services that is tightly integrated into streaming adapters and smart TVs running Amazon's Fire TV platform. Prime Video subscribers can easily add HBO with a few button taps of their Fire TV remote."

So in many ways, the kind of annoying content licensing and retransmission feuds (and annoying blackouts) we saw with traditional cable TV have only simply evolved in the streaming era. But AT&T now finds itself without the kind of power it enjoyed in telecom, where competition is virtually nonexistent and government routinely protected it from the faintest whiff of failure. Even AT&T's attempt to tilt the playing field in its favor to gain leverage in the streaming wars via the net neutrality repeal (ensuring AT&T's unnecessary broadband caps only apply to a competitor's service) isn't likely to help here.

AT&T can probably still right the ship, consolidate its confusing brands, and strike new deals in time. But it's still frequently entertaining to see broadband giants try to compete and innovate after decades of being government pampered monopolies. More often than not, the end result of that steep learning curve (see Verizon's Go90) isn't particularly pretty. Meanwhile, these kinds of standoffs will only lead to frustration and higher piracy rates, which these companies will then blame on everything but themselves a few years from now.

Filed Under: competition, contracts, streaming, video
Companies: amazon, at&t, roku


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  • icon
    fairuse (profile), 2 Jun 2020 @ 6:42am

    HBO/Cinemax Quality Series via Hands-off The Creator - RIP

    Cinemax has helped several stories get on cable via the Premium Channels Bundle - HBO/Cinemax, Starz, Showtime. The Cinemax channel was more adult than HBO and as "Banshee" Deputy Siobhan Kelly (Trieste Kelly Dunn) said during an interview, "Telling my father I was in a Cinemax series was [interesting] because it had pushed the limits in sex scenes and everyone knew that. [ed: some paraphrase liberty by me for safe language] ".

    HBO let Cinemax productions test new stories without binding the writer(s) and director(s) to oversight and loss of creative control. Win for all.

    Series : Strikeback, Banshee and some movies were violent, sexual, and did not waste this viewers time. Some other complex stories did not draw my attention but as my wife said "there are stories I like. Don't be greedy". Cinemax is out of the production business, is split off into its own subscription (Amazon has best price so far). I won't pay for HBO outside of Comcast for 1) Not much content for me, 2) $15 month is a deal breaker.

    I predict AT&T toss crappy TV in its HBO Max product with some movies from quality collections and have a "few" streaming deals at a respectable price. However, it will do what it does - piss off everyone in any way possible because AT&T only understands "profit center".

    RIP HBO/Cinemax. Tip: Buy DVD and/or Blu-ray if you like a series (double check Burn-Ondemand disks - Amazon does good work but the master may be only aired episodes without any background shorts).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Jun 2020 @ 6:47am

    Roku is certainly the most popular dedicated streaming hardware, but how many people have one? I suspect the majority of people use existing hardware, whether cable boxes, video game consoles, and of course, their phones or computers to watch much more than with Rokus by a large margin.

    In the end it doesn't really matter much though. If HBO Max has a show I want to see, I'll subscribe...for a month or two, to watch it, just like I did with Disney+ and CBS All Access. I'll turn the on when they have something i want to see. Companies are going to have to offer something more, like Amazon Prime does, if they want people to subscribe year round.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      fairuse (profile), 2 Jun 2020 @ 7:56am

      Re: Roku

      It depends on what deal is made - Roku folks have a seat at the table. In my case I have Amazon Fire TV sticks, Kindle Old and Kindle brand new, iPads, android mobiles, wayback iMac 27" intel, and Comcast. Why?

      All content distribution is controlled by the holder. Amazon makes deals to offer stream via Prime. AT&T sees Amazon as the enemy.

      The latest twist to live and stream ondemand is WGNa blocking Comcast viewers from all of "Almost Paradise" but Fios users no cost. I went to Amazon and bought season 1 with next day stream - 1 eps a week 10 episodes.

      So, there will be turf wars on every device. Since I have Xfinity wired from box trying to mirror xfinity stream app on Kindle to Big TV fails.

      So many ways to bust everyones balls.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      K`Tetch (profile), 2 Jun 2020 @ 8:16am

      Re:

      More and more common.

      for the last 3 years, we used our xbox1 to do 99% of our streaming.

      3 months ago we bought a new TV to replace our main tv that had the backlight go out. It was a TCL, so it was a built-in ROKU device. we've barely used the xbox for streaming since.

      Until this past week (more on that in its own comment)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Samuel Abram (profile), 2 Jun 2020 @ 1:44pm

      Re:

      Roku is certainly the most popular dedicated streaming hardware, but how many people have one?

      *raises hand* Yo. I have not just one, but two Roku devices. AT&T failing to put their streaming service on Roku and Amazon is, IMHO, unacceptable, especially after how Disney went in for the hard sell with Disney+ (Disney may be harmful assholes but they're not a bunch of clueless idiots).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Jun 2020 @ 7:26am

    Well, most of these services I won't be subscribing to. Jacking up prices just means I'm even less likely to ever use them. I cut the cord to save money. I get most of my TV from my Antenna. AT&T and screwed up HBO who has been around forever. I remember back in the day where we have the duel cables, A/B and you would have to push one button or the other to get the channels you wanted and there was an HBO Box if you had HBO. We didn't have cable at all, but our next-door neighbors did. I'd watch MTV back when it was Music Videos. Not the Reality TV crap that it is these days.

    Is there really anything on HBO these days to worth getting??? Now it's a whole confusing and overpriced mess. The #1 reason it was to switch from getting say TV from your cable provider to one of these streaming services, was PRICE, as in a lot cheaper. That's gone by the way side to be the same prices, but now you're wasting your Internet CAP to do it. You might as well go back to your cable provider.

    Or you just have nothing to do with almost all of them. I have Netflix, which I had before I cut the cord, Amazon Prime, which I rarely watch, got it for the free 2nd-day air, and AppleTV+ as it's just $5 a month. Funny how Apple is the cheapest out of all of theses. Even Netflix is getting a bit costly and more so if you want 4K.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Samuel Abram (profile), 3 Jun 2020 @ 8:19am

      Re:

      I'd watch MTV back when it was Music Videos. Not the Reality TV crap that it is these days.

      There is indeed MTV with actual music videos on PlutoTV, which is free (as in beer) TV.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Jeremy Lyman (profile), 2 Jun 2020 @ 7:42am

    Turning Tables

    Man AT&T, doesn't it drive you crazy when some meddling 3rd party gets between you and potential subscribers? Just pay some kickbacks and I'm sure your bits will flow unimpeded./s

    Joking aside, I'm sure it'd be just as aggravating to be an Amazon or Roku customer used as leverage as it is when an ISP does this. But it's a different scenario because the barriers to competitive streaming hardware options are very low; as opposed to the Natural Monopoly ISPs leverage.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Thad (profile), 2 Jun 2020 @ 8:15am

    I was on the HBO website the other day and there was a big banner that said something like "HBO Now, HBO Go, HBO Max -- What's the difference?" And my reaction was "If you have to put that on your website, you have fucked up."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Jeremy Lyman (profile), 2 Jun 2020 @ 10:52am

      Re:

      With the kicker that, after claiming the page as a remedy to the questions "Are they all the same? Do I need all three?" it does not answer them.

      HBO GO is a streaming service offered by HBO
      HBO NOW is a standalone streaming service offered by HBO
      HBO Max is a platform offered by WarnerMedia

      These are not differences that customers give a care about. Whoever wrote this likes to say "synergy" at board meetings.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    K`Tetch (profile), 2 Jun 2020 @ 8:20am

    Tardis Troubles

    last week, wife signed up for HBO whatever, just because dr who is going to be on it.
    we put the app on our Roku TV, and.... no Dr Who.

    Turns out its the 'wrong HBO' and the right one isn't on Roku, and shes annoyed.
    Have to use the xbox now.

    its a real pain because we can just use the phone app to turn on the tv and start loading the channel before we get in the room. Now we have to do that to turn it to the Xbox input, then grab the xbox remote turn it on, wait for it to power up, select the HBO app etc......

    major pain, and not a good look for AT&T

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Jun 2020 @ 9:08am

      Re: Tardis Troubles

      its a real pain because we can just use the phone app to turn on the tv and start loading the channel before we get in the room. Now we have to do that to turn it to the Xbox input, then grab the xbox remote turn it on, wait for it to power up, select the HBO app etc......

      Holy fuck, talk about first world problems...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 Jun 2020 @ 9:40am

        Re: Re: Tardis Troubles

        It was not that long ago .... so it seems anyway,
        that one was instructed by their television to Stay Tuned.

        This meant that the viewer should periodically put down the popcorn, get up out of their barcalounger, go over to the television set and tune in the channel. The television needed to be fine tuned periodically in order to maintain good quality reception. Ahhhh - the good old analog days.

        Now one has to put up with caching, out of order packets and lag.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Michael, 2 Jun 2020 @ 1:17pm

    "hard"

    It's also a reminder of how hard it is for even a big network like HBO to transition to streaming.

    It's more of a reminder that any butt-reaming asshole with the right connections can be a CEO, because everything they've screwed up was entirely predictable, and entirely predicted.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 2 Jun 2020 @ 1:37pm

    Who ever learned Business in ATT..

    Didnt read the extra txt, or was Gone the day they discussed..
    Buying New content Must pay for itself.

    Asking 1million users to pay for your 1 trillion NEW expenses, (does this cover Working The NEW business costs) is expecting to get $1000 EXTRA out of your customer.(and raising your prices to PAY for your excess IOS NOT a good thing)
    I know the numbers are wrong, but so is how they did it.

    Where are those 2 services NOW? are they up and running and paying for themselves?? Probably not very well, if at all.

    Can we Pay a Short person to run up and kick someone in the shins???

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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