Paving the way for other big mergers.
AT&T’s green light to seal its $85.4 billion deal for Time Warner is expected to kick off a new wave of video-streaming services seeking to battle Netflix.
Consumers won’t have to wait long to see results from the No. 2 wireless company and owner of DirecTV adding Turner, HBO, and Warner Bros. studio to its stable.
Next week, AT&T will launch Watch TV, an ad-supported video service that’s free for its unlimited wireless subscribers and $15 for other consumers. The entertainment-centric service will have Turner channels and no sports, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson says. “Those are the kind of things we are going to be bringing to market,” he said on CNBC Friday.
AT&T needed the deal, Stephenson has said, to evolve into a modern media company that could compete with companies such as Netflix, Amazon, Facebook and Google. Other traditional media players will be making their own moves to keep pace.
A look at some of the possibilities from the major players:
•AT&T. In addition to Watch TV, AT&T will likely look for ways to expand the reach of DirecTV Now, the broadband TV service currently with 1.5 million subscribers. And it could even launch a targeted sports service, says Joel Espelien, an analyst with Plano, Texas-based research firm The Diffusion Group.
“AT&T already has premium covered with HBO,” and could supplement that with sports, content consumers won’t find at Netflix and Amazon, he said. “Turner’s going to help there.”
Earlier this year, Turner announced plans to include pay-per-view of live games in progress (at a reduced price, but no pricing announced yet), as part of its Bleacher Report Live service in the upcoming NBA season. In addition to the NBA, Turner also has rights for March Madness, some Major League Baseball regular season and playoff games, and eSports, competitive video game competitions.
Also look for expanded promotion of AT&T’s Audience network, available on DirecTV, DirecTV Now and AT&T’s U-verse broadband service. It has original series such as Condor, starring Max Irons, William Hurt and Mira Sorvino; and Mr. Mercedes, based on the Stephen King novels, and weekly concerts featuring artists such as Jason Aldean and Imagine Dragons.
•Disney. The Walt Disney Co. has set its sights on expanding its already-impressive media empire (Disney, Pixar, Lucasfilm, Marvel) with a $52.4 billion bid on a coveted collection of 21st Century Fox’s assets including its movie studios (Avatar, Alien, Titanic) and TV studio (The Simpsons, Empire). That may not be a sure thing, as Comcast is now in the bidding, too.
The Fox movie and TV content would bolster Disney’s portfolio for next year’s launch of its own subscription video service, with original Marvel and Star Wars TV series and exclusive streaming of Disney’s theatrical releases.
Recently, Disney premiered ESPN+, a $4.99 monthly sports streaming service ($49.99 annually), with live MLB, NHL and MLS, PGA Tour, boxing and college sports not on ESPN and ESPN 2, as well as original content like 30 for 30. With Fox’s 22 regional sports networks, ESPN could strengthen ESPN+ and even add new ESPN video channels.
Disney would also gain a majority stake in streaming service Hulu, which a year ago added live TV to its on-demand library. Currently, Disney, Comcast and Fox hold 30% stakes, with Time Warner holding 10%.
Hulu, which has grown to 20 million subscribers and has gained acclaim with original series such as The Handmaid’s Tale, would likely be transformed as the Disney’s vehicle to take on Netflix, Espelien says.
•Comcast. One of the nation’s largest pay-TV and broadband providers, Comcast also wants to add Fox’s assets to its catalog along with NBC Universal, which it fully acquired five years ago. Should it succeed with its $65 billion offer to Fox, made earlier this week, could eventually enter the streaming service business itself.
Currently Comcast sells Xfinity Instant TV with 10-plus channels including local ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, PBS and other channels — plus broadband service — for $39.99 monthly. Current Xfinity broadband customers can add it for about $18. And you can add more channels, including HBO. Comcast also has a nascent Xfinity Mobile service, more than one year old, which could be packaged with content to attract mobile millennial customers.
But these may not come to pass. “Comcast is going to look the most traditional even if they own Fox,” Espelien said.
•Fox. The Rupert Murdoch-controlled media company finds itself in a good place, with a bidding war expected to ensue for a portion of the Fox empire including FX and National Geographic. Even before it emerges more focused on news and sports, Fox has already announced plans for a Fox News streaming service called Fox Nation to launch later this year.
•CBS. Although it’s currently mired in a legal battle with controlling shareholders Shari Redstone and National Amusements, CBS has sought a merger with Viacom. CBS already has a CBS All Access streaming service, priced at $5.99 monthly (limited commercials; $9.99 monthly no commercials), with original series such as Star Trek: Discovery and The Good Fight, and free ad-supported CBS Sports HQ and CBSN news services. Viacom’s brands including Paramount Pictures (Mission Impossible), Nickelodeon, BET, Comedy Central, MTV and VH1 would expand its roster for improved Net TV offerings.
•Verizon. The nation’s largest wireless provider expressed interest in Fox’s assets last year and has been relatively silent recently. But the company, which acquired AOL and Yahoo in 2015 and 2017, respectively, then last year launched a new company, Oath, has ambitions of being a major content and digital advertising player, too. Beyond its own go90 video service, now three years old, Verizon has made video deals with the NBA and Hearst Media; Hearst and Verizon, collectively, also own 49% of AwesomenessTV, which creates original mobile video for younger audiences.
Verizon could make some acquisitions to jumpstart its video plans, says Jim Nail, a principal analyst at research firm Forrester. “I feel like they are potentially primed to say, ‘Screw trying to build it, let’s just go buy it. Verizon has got to be looking at the AT&T thing and going, hmmm, we need to follow that example,” he said.
•Lionsgate. The studio, which owns premium network Starz, and has 16,000 films (La La Land, John Wick) and TV series (Nashville, Orange is the New Black) in its library, has seen its stock price rise 6% since the AT&T decision. With Lionsgate relatively value priced at a market cap of $5.4 billion, “people are thinking they are in play,” Espelien said. “There is this gold rush for original content.”
This wave of acquisitions and mergers could slow the growing number of streaming services, currently at 300 or so, which would better serve consumers because the average home subscribes to three or four, says Kevin Westcott, vice chairman for U.S. telecom and media at consulting firm Deloitte.
“We have got an an immense amount of consumer choice but a lot of fragmentation,” Westcott said. “Consumers want to have dozens of subscriptions to get the content. The moves you are seeing now, and I expect to see more moves in terms of acquisitions and consolidation, are around re-aggregating multiple sources of content and presenting that to the consumer in a unified experience.”
And watching will become more economical, as many services turn to advertising to cover the cost for consumers, Nail says. “As streaming gets more mainstream, (all consumers) don’t have the income to continually shell out more and more money, so the ad-supported channels are going to be much more appealing,” he said.
Follow USA TODAY reporter Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider.
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