AT&T’s planned DirecTV streaming service may run on third-party hardware

AT&T’s new DirecTV streaming service, due out later this year, is being packaged with a proprietary Android TV-based streaming device. But the service might also be available through apps on third-party devices.

David Christopher, president of AT&T Mobility and Entertainment, said that AT&T is still excited about the hardware piece of the new DirecTV service but that it doesn’t necessarily mean the company won’t have an application that can run on someone else’s hardware in a second or third bedroom.

“We’ll play with that and think about that as we get to market,” Christopher said today at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Telecom and Media Conference.

Christopher said that AT&T built its new streaming box for the service because the company believes it wouldn’t get all the benefits if it had just made the new DirecTV service an application. He said by having a piece of hardware that is “really elegant and very seamless and easy to self-install,” the company can do things from a customer experience perspective that are more evolved and more capable.

AT&T is beta testing its new streaming version of the full DirecTV service, and plans to officially launch it in the back half of 2019. Christopher reiterated the benefits that AT&T executives have previously laid out, namely the low-cost piece of hardware that consumers can install, which will help lower the cost of customer acquisition by eliminating the need for truck rolls and installers climbing ladders to put satellite dishes on roofs. He also said that it will be “extremely easy” for the consumer to get up and running and that the service will have a “modern UI, really great search and navigation capabilities and application support.”

“We think it will be a very attractive product, a premium product, but because the acquisition cost is less, we will have the wherewithal to make it a price point that could be slightly below satellite if we choose to,” Christopher said.

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As for where DirecTV Now – which has lost subscribers in past two quarters – will fit in once the new streaming DirecTV arrives, Christopher said that DirecTV Now still makes sense for certain people who don’t want a full cable or satellite bundle, are more price-conscious, and don’t want contracts. However, he admitted that AT&T has emphasized DirecTV Now slightly less than it did when it first rolled it out because the company is more focused on other elements of its portfolio.

That portfolio includes traditional video distribution services DirecTV and AT&T U-verse, the upcoming DirecTV streaming service, DirecTV Now, Watch TV and the upcoming WarnerMedia SVOD, which is arriving later this year.

Christopher said that AT&T is really pleased with the two new price points for DirecTV Now that it rolled out earlier this year, but stressed that DirecTV Now is just a part of the company’s entire video service portfolio.