All of DIRECTV’s content going to streaming?

There have been some rumors lately based around the idea of DIRECTV service over the internet, not just on satellite. An an investor conference a while back, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson outlined the strategy. According to FierceCable,

…on a very publicly stated quest to convert its more than 25 million U.S. pay TV customers to streaming video services, AT&T yesterday revealed details of its new virtual service that will be launched in the coming months around its existing skinny vMVPD play, DirecTV Now.

Launching as a premium service relative to the $40-$60-a-month Now product, an as-yet untitled streaming service will include the full DirecTV bundle, delivered over the top instead of via satellite to U.S. homes.

In other words, it’s DIRECTV Satellite, without the satellite.

Let the fear, uncertainty and doubt begin

There a few frequent readers to this blog who immediately jumped up and said “See, I told you so! Satellite is doomed! The sky is falling!” Obviously that’s not true. AT&T is still on track to launch another satellite, and the cost to convert all 24-million-ish satellite customers to streaming overnight. Come on, they’re still working on getting SD customers moved to HD, right?

There is no reason to think that the existing service is going away, period. No one said that, not even Mr. Stephenson.

Is something new coming then?

It would seem that AT&T is looking to port its entire DIRECTV channel lineup to streaming. That’s not terribly surprising, although I’d imagine it’s more of a long-term goal than a quick change. The typical broadcast carriage contract runs for 3 years. It makes sense that as they are renegotiated, that streaming rights would be added. Eventually every channel will have satellite and streaming rights. It only makes sense.

At that point I could imagine that the entire channel lineup could be migrated over to streaming.

It won’t be fast, it won’t be easy, and it won’t be cheap (for AT&T.)

AT&T is in the process of massively upgrading their data backbone so that every home and every cellular customer can get 5G service. As part of this, they’ll be putting in enough servers and enough fiber to carry DIRECTV programming… all of it. It’s going to take time though.

To answer the question…

It is absolutely technically possible for all of the thousands of channels of DIRECTV programming to stream over the internet. Every single local channel, every single national channel. It’s a lot of bandwidth, but it’s possible here in 2018. It’s probably more possible in 2019 or 2020.

I would imagine that local channels would stream from local service centers while national ones might “load-balance,” providing the same content from several server farms across the country.

What does this all mean?

For the average DIRECTV customer, it means nothing but good things. It means there could be options for people who don’t have line-of-sight for satellite. I’ve long imagined a situation where AT&T’s 5G network jumps in automatically in the case of rain fade or signal loss. For a new customer it means you have options, and again that’s a good thing.

The real answer here is that one person made a statement that we don’t all really understand. It’s not clear what these plans are, really — is this going to be a premium tier of DIRECTV Now that offers the full lineup? Is it intended to eventually replace satellite in 5-10 years? It’s just a tiny nugget of information out of context and really, that’s all we can say here.

Always in motion is the future

Remember that pretty much every forecast, every conference, every tech talk, contains some sort of disclaimer about forward-facing statements. These plans, whatever they are, are very likely to change a dozen times before they’re truly implemented.

One thing I can say for absolute sure about today, though, is that satellite TV is here, it works great, it doesn’t get clogged or buffer because your neighbor’s kid is pirating movies, and it works. It’s a great option for today and for the near future, and as far as the far future… it’s hard to know. That’s the bottom line.