AT&T will launch yet another streaming service, and we’re utterly confused

AT&T

AT&T, which already runs two streaming services, DirecTV Now and Watch TV, and is readying a third — HBO Max — for launch, has now revealed plans to debut a fourth streaming service called AT&T TV. The announcement was made during the company’s second-quarter earnings call with analysts.

Details around the new subscription service remain vague, but it looks like AT&T TV will be some kind of over-the-top (OTT) live TV product that will mimic cable and satellite, yet be much simpler to install and use. It will use an Android TV box, according to a report by CNET, which means customers may be able to install it themselves as they would an Apple TV or Roku device. Content and pricing are unknown, but AT&T plans to begin trialing the service in select areas starting as early as this summer, before rolling it out more widely through the remainder of the year.

What we can’t quite figure out is why AT&T feels there’s a need for yet another streaming service. Our best guess at the moment is that the company sees its traditional DirecTV satellite subscription service flagging at an accelerating rate, yet it doesn’t see either DirecTV Now or Watch TV as viable replacements. If this is accurate, AT&T TV could be its way of dropping the cost of a traditional TV service, while retaining control over the entire experience via its own set-top box. Unlike DirecTV Now and Watch TV, which are app-based and support multiple platforms like Apple TV, Chromecast, iOS, and Android, the AT&T TV service could use the Android TV box to house its main interface, while still providing app-based access to its content as a secondary viewing option.

Of course, this is all conjecture. We’re still trying to determine exactly how DirecTV Now, with its embedded HBO subscriptions, will overlap with the upcoming HBO Max service. Both will have HBO content, and both will offer live TV streaming. If AT&T TV has an HBO option — and there’s no reason to think it wouldn’t — that would create a third streaming product with a similar value proposition. Is the TV-watching market in the U.S. so diverse that it can support not only these AT&T options, but also Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+, Apple TV+, YouTube TV, Hulu, FuboTV, and SlingTV? And those are just the biggest names. Perhaps AT&T reckons that its best to make several bets on the future of TV, leveraging as many of its assets as possible, and see what sticks.

If the streaming infrastructure for AT&T TV already exists thanks to its investments in DirecTV Now and Watch TV, perhaps it’s a bet that won’t break the bank if it fails to catch on.

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