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New AT&T unlimited wireless plans lets cord cutters WatchTV for free

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USA TODAY

Published 6:30 a.m. ET June 21, 2018 | Updated 7:32 a.m. ET June 21, 2018

Hot off completing its acquisition of Time Warner, AT&T announced on Thursday that it will be launching its first post-merger consumer video offering called WatchTV next week, which you can consume on a smartphone or tablet app or on select web browsers and set-top boxes.

The service, a so-called “skinny bundle” with more than 30 live streaming channels and more than 15,000 TV shows and movies on demand, will be offered free to consumers under two brand new AT&T unlimited plans, starting at $70 for a single line. 

The new unlimited plans replace AT&T’s existing unlimited plans, though current customers can hold onto the plan they have.

If you do opt to keep your current unlimited plan or are not on any AT&T plan, you can fork over $15 monthly for WatchTV as a standalone cutting-the-cord streaming option. Under such a scenario, AT&T will not only be competing against its traditional wireless rival Verizon, but against a the cord-cutting Sling TV service, which starts at $20 a month.

WatchTV has been in the works for awhile but AT&T was waiting for clarity on the Time Warner deal before proceeding with the launch. The deal got the green light last week when a Federal Judge rejected a government suit to block the $85 billion mega-merger. That decision has also prompted the renewal of a high stakes bidding war between Comcast and Walt Disney Co. for a collection of TV and entertainment assets put up for sale by 21st Century Fox.

And yes, the WatchTV lineup includes several former Time Warner channel properties, including CNN, TBS, TNT and TruTV. Since the new service centers around live TV, it will be largely ad-supported.

Of course, WatchTV is but one offering in AT&T’s now expanding entertainment portfolio. The portfolio includes DirecTV Now for cord cutters who demand a larger and broader set of channels, starting at $35 a month for some 60 channels on up to $70 monthly for 120-plus channels.

There are also the more traditional cable and satellite offerings with even more channels and a sports packages,that you can get via DirecTV or U-verse TV. For example, NFL Sunday Ticket is limited to DirecTV.

“Our goal is to completely change how content is created, distributed and consumed, and this (WatchTV offering) is really the first step of many steps,” David Christopher, the president of AT&T Mobility and Entertainment, said in an interview. “What we’re doing is creating a portfolio of `good, better, best’ that aligns with what different customers care about.”

 The unlimited plans under which AT&T will provide WatchTV gratis go by the names of AT&TUnlimited&More ($70 for a single line; $160 for four lines) and AT&TUnlimited&MorePremium ($80; $190). 

Under the Unlimited&More plan, you get a $15 monthly credit towards AT&T’s DirecTV Now service, as well as unlimited 4G LTE. Video streams in (480p) standard definition.

The extras you get with the step-up Unlimited&MorePremium plan includes a $15 month credit towards DirecTV Now, DirectTV or U-verse TV, along with 15GB of high speed wireless tethering. You also can add one premium channel, off a list that includes HBO, Cinemax, Showtime or Starz, as well as music streaming services like Amazon Music Unlimited and Pandora Premium. 

HD video (1080p) streaming is also supported under the premium plan. And you’ll be able to swap one premium channel choice for another if say a new season of a favorite show such as “Game of Thrones” comes on, but AT&T hasn’t revealed how often you’ll be able to switch premium channels. 

However, if you are grandfathered in on one of AT&T’s existing unlimited plans, you can still stream HBO at no extra cost.

While consumers have a wider choice these days in picking a wireless plan, AT&T’s latest offerings–as well as a slate of recent deals at very different price points from Verizon (at the high end) and Sprint (at the low)–have only made your search for a plan more complex.

More: Here’s what the new unlimited data plans will do for prices

Even before all the recent merger activity, and the launch of WatchTV, the leading telecom carriers had been bundling in such video services as HBO, Hulu and Netflix, as incentives to attract or keep wireless customers – and in some cases to prop up prices for the unlimited plans that represent the new normal.

Indeed, many consumers may no longer choose a plan or carrier strictly by how much you may pay, so much as what TV and entertainment channels you can watch for your money. 

Email: ebaig@usatoday.com; Follow USA TODAY Personal Tech Columnist @edbaig on Twitter

 

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