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AT&T raises DirecTV Now price—again—after promising lower post-merger bills

Posted by on Mar 12, 2019 in AT&T, Biz & IT, directv now, HBO, Time Warner | 0 comments

An AT&T logo on the side of a building.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | ljhimages)

AT&T is reportedly raising the price of DirecTV Now by $10 a month and notifying current subscribers that they will pay the new, higher price starting in April.

DirecTV Now packages today cost $40 to $75 a month before add-ons such as HBO, and current customers will reportedly pay $10 a month more regardless of which package they subscribe to, making the prices $50 to $85. News reports say AT&T is also reconfiguring its channel packages for new subscribers, adding HBO to basic packages while eliminating dozens of channels that aren’t part of the AT&T-owned Time Warner Inc. New customers will reportedly be able to choose from two slimmer plans costing $50 or $70 a month.

The price hike and channel reduction are happening despite AT&T promising that its acquisition of Time Warner would lower prices for customers. When the Department of Justice tried to stop the merger, AT&T told a judge in a May 2018 court filing that the merger “will enable the merged company to reduce prices.”

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Source: Ars Technica

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Venture investors and startup execs say they don’t need Elizabeth Warren to defend them from big tech

Posted by on Mar 8, 2019 in Amazon, AT&T, ben narasin, chief technology officer, coinbase, Companies, economy, elizabeth warren, entrepreneurship, Facebook, Federal Trade Commission, Google, IBM, kara nortman, Los Angeles, Microsoft, new enterprise associates, Private Equity, Social Media, Startup company, TC, Technology, Technology Development, United States, upfront ventures, us government, venky ganesan, Venture Capital, Walmart, world wide web, zappos | 0 comments

Responding to Elizabeth Warren’s call to regulate and break up some of the nation’s largest technology companies, the venture capitalists that invest in technology companies are advising the presidential hopeful to move slowly and not break anything.

Warren’s plan called for regulators to be appointed to oversee the unwinding of several acquisitions that were critical to the development of the core technology that make Alphabet’s Google and the social media giant Facebook so profitable… and Zappos.

Warren also wanted regulation in place that would block companies making over $25 billion that operate as social media or search platforms or marketplaces from owning companies that also sell services on those marketplaces.

As a whole, venture capitalists viewing the policy were underwhelmed.

“As they say on Broadway, ‘you gotta have a gimmick’ and this is clearly Warren’s,” says Ben Narasin, an investor at one of the nation’s largest investment firms,” New Enterprise Associates, which has $18 billion in assets under management and has invested in consumer companies like Jet, an online and mobile retailer that competed with Amazon and was sold to Walmart for $3.3 billion.

“Decades ago, at the peak of Japanese growth as a technology competitor on the global stage, the US government sought to break up IBM . This is not a new model, and it makes no sense,” says Narasin. “We slow down our country, our economy and our ability to innovate when the government becomes excessively aggressive in efforts to break up technology companies, because they see them through a prior-decades lens, when they are operating in a future decade reality. This too shall pass.”

Balaji Sirinivasan, the chief technology officer of Coinbase, took to Twitter to offer his thoughts on the Warren plan. “If big companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon are prevented from acquiring startups, that actually reduces competition,” Sirinivasan writes.

“There are two separate issues here that are being conflated. One issue is do we need regulation on the full platform companies. And the answer is absolutely,” says Venky Ganesan, the managing director of Menlo Ventures. “These platforms have a huge impact on society at large and they have huge influence.”

But while the platforms need to be regulated, Ganesan says, Senator Warren’s approach is an exercise in overreach.

“That plan is like taking a bazooka to a knife fight. It’s overwhelming and it’s not commensurate with the issues,” Ganesan says. “I don’t think at the end of the day venture capital is worrying about competition from these big platform companies. [And] as the proposal is composed it would create more obstacles rather than less.”

Using Warren’s own example of the antitrust cases that were brought against companies like AT&T and Microsoft, is a good model for how to proceed, Ganesan says. “We want to have the technocrats at the FTC figure out the right way to bring balance.”

Kara Nortman, a partner with the Los Angeles-based firm Upfront Ventures, is also concerned about the potential unforeseen consequences of Warren’s proposals.

“The specifics of the policy as presented strike me as having potentially negative consequences for innovation, These companies are funding massive innovation initiatives in our country. They’re creating jobs and taking risks in areas of technology development where we could potentially fall behind other countries and wind up reducing our quality of life,” Nortman says. “We’re not seeing that innovation or initiative come from the government – or that support for encouraging immigration and by extension embracing the talented foreign entrepreneurs that could develop new technologies and businesses.”

Nortman sees the Warren announcement as an attempt to start a dialogue between government regulators and big technology companies.

“My hope is that this is the beginning of a dialogue that is constructive,” Nortman says. “And since Elizabeth Warren is a thoughtful policymaker this is likely the first salvo toward an engagement with the technology community to work collaboratively on issues that we all want to see solved and that some of us are dedicating our career in venture to help solving.”


Source: The Tech Crunch

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The forthcoming WarnerMedia streaming service will be partially supported by ads

Posted by on Jan 30, 2019 in AT&T, cord cutting, HBO, Media, Movies, streaming, streaming service, Time Warner, tv, WarnerMedia | 0 comments

In November, AT&T opened up about its plans for its forthcoming WarnerMedia streaming service, which aims to leverage the entertainment properties AT&T gained by way of its Time Warner acquisition last year. The company said the service will have three tiers — an entry-level, movie-focused service; a premium tier with original programming and blockbusters; and a bundle that includes them both. Today, AT&T revealed another detail: Some of the service’s content will be supported by advertising.

Speaking to investors this morning on its Q4 earnings call, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said the new service will have what he referred to as a “two-sided business model.”

That is, the service will include subscription-based, commercial-free programming on the high-end — like HBO or Netflix offers. But it seems the entry-level portion of the service will be ad-supported, according to the exec’s comments.

“Customers have become accustomed to advertising-free subscription services,” Stephenson noted. “And we think HBO and a lot of the Warner Brothers content, that’s really premium content, will fit into that mold,” he said. “But there are other elements where advertising-supported models are going to be important to keep prices down, to keep costs for the consumer down and actually fund additional content acquisition and purchasing,” Stephenson added.

He said the model for the new service would be “heavy” on the subscription side, with “some” ad-supported elements to it. The latter would be enabled by AT&T’s ad tech called Xandr.

The exec acknowledged, too, the challenge of entering the market at this point with yet another streaming offering, but seemed optimistic about AT&T’s chances.

“We have really high expectations for our streaming service. We don’t think there is going to be a proliferation of these that will succeed over time, but those who have very, very strong IP — deep libraries of IP — are the ones that we think are going to succeed over time,” he said.

What was less clear is whether the ad-supported elements to the WarnerMedia service would actually involve any of its content streaming for free to consumers, or whether it will just make the service more affordable — like Hulu’s core TV package, which just dropped its pricing to $6 per month. (AT&T currently owns a stake in Hulu, but it has been weighing putting it up for sale to pay down debt. That’s still on the table, the company said today.)

If WarnerMedia’s service goes the ad-supported route for its entry-level tier, it will face a lot of competition. Today, there are a number of ways to stream free movies and TV on demand, thanks to advertising-supported offerings from a host of major players.

For example, there’s free content on The Roku Channel; Walmart’s ad-supported video on Vudu; Amazon-owned IMDb’s new service FreediveViacom’s new acquisition, Pluto TV; Sinclair’s local broadcaster-focused service Stirr; and sometime this year, media center software maker Plex will offer free movies. Comcast will also launch a free streaming service for its pay TV customers in 2020.

If, however, WarnerMedia chooses to charge a small amount for its ad-supported content, then it will have to go up against Hulu’s core package — which looks more compelling as it includes original programming.

On the subscription side of things, the service will be up against paid services like Netflix, Time Warner’s own HBO NOW (and the other ways to get HBO over-the-top), plus the forthcoming launches from Apple (presumably) and Disney.

What’s more is that the company doesn’t plan on entirely cutting off access to its content by bringing it all in-house. As Stephenson mentioned today, AT&T recently extended its license for “Friends” to Netflix, instead of cutting them off.

“We said exclusivity is probably not that critical on that type of content, but it’s critical to have on our platform,” he explained. “So we did license it to Netflix as you saw, but on a non-exclusive basis. And so each of these decisions on significant content like that are going to be evaluated in terms of how critical is it to our platform to have it as exclusive, versus the economics of licensing it to others.”


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Still a year away from launch, Meg Whitman and Jeffrey Katzenberg’s Quibi keeps adding talent

Posted by on Dec 5, 2018 in 21st century fox, alibaba, Amazon, Apple, Artificial Intelligence, AT&T, broadband, Business, chairman, dan brown, Disney, Goldman Sachs, Guillermo del Toro, HBO, Hulu, instagram, Jeffrey Katzenberg, major, meg whitman, mobile media, model, nbcuniversal, Netflix, Quibi, sam raimi, Snap, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Startups, stephen curry, TC, telecommunications, Television In The United States, the walt disney company, verizon, WndrCo | 0 comments

Video won’t start rolling on Meg Whitman and Jeffrey Katzenberg’s new bite-sized streaming service with the billion-dollar backing until the end of 2019, but talent keeps signing up to come along for their ride into the future of serialization.

The latest marquee director to sign on the dotted line with Quibi is Catherine Hardwicke, who will be helming a story around the creation of an artificial intelligence with the working title “How They Made Her,” according to an announcement from Katzenberg onstage at the Variety Innovate summit.

Hardwicke, who directed “Thirteen,” “Lords of Dogtown” and, most famously, “Twilight,” is joining Antoine Fuqua, Guillermo del Toro, Sam Raimi and Lena Waithe in an attempt to answer the question of whether Whitman and Katzenberg’s gamble on premium (up to $6 million per episode) short-form storytelling is a quixotic quest or a quintessential viewing experience for a new generation of media consumers.

Katzenberg also revealed in a LinkedIn post that Quibi would be working on a basketball-related series with Steph Curry’s production company. He wrote:

I announced a new docu-series by Whistle called “Benedict Men” coming exclusively to Quibi. “Benedict Men” will be executive produced by Stephen Curry’s Unanimous Media and will give viewers an inside look at one of the most unique high school basketball teams in America at St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark, New Jersey.

St. Benedict’s Prep is an all-boys secondary school founded on the core belief ‘What Hurts My Brother Hurts Me,’ and aims to foster a legacy of strong character, community, leadership, and faith. As one of the top athletic high schools with a storied basketball program and the highest graduation rate in New Jersey, the series will follow the brotherhood of young men who seek to balance life in complicated surroundings.

In some ways, the big adventure backed by Katzenberg, the former chairman of Walt Disney Studios and founder of WndrCo, and every major Hollywood studio — including Disney, 21st Century Fox, Entertainment One, NBCUniversal, Sony Pictures Entertainment and Alibaba Goldman Sachs — is the latest in an everything old is new again refrain.

If blogs reinvented printed media, and podcasts and music streaming reinvented radio, why can’t Quibi reinvent serialized storytelling.

Again and again, Whitman and Katzenberg returned to an analogy from the early days of the cable revolution. “We’re not short form, we’re Quibi,” said Whitman, echoing the tagline that HBO made famous in its early advertising blitzes. That Whitman and Katzenberg’s project to take what HBO did for premium television and apply that to mobile media is ambitious. Now industry-watchers will have to wait until 2019 at the earliest to see if it’s also successful.

In the interview onstage at a Variety event on artificial intelligence in media, Katzenberg cited Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” as something of an inspiration — noting that the book had more than 100 chapters for its 500 pages of text. But Katzenberg could have gone back even further to the days of Dickens and his serialized entertainments.

And right now for the entertainment business it really is the best of times and the worst of times. Traditional Hollywood studios are seeing new players like Netflix, Amazon, Apple and others all trying to drink their milkshake. And, for the most part, these studios and their new telecom owners are woefully ill-equipped to fight these big technology platforms at their own game. 

Taking the long view of entertainment history, Katzenberg is hoping to win networks with not just a new skin for the old ceremony of watching entertainment but with a throwback to old style deal-making. The term serialization here takes on greater meaning. 

Quibi is offering its production partners a sweetheart deal. After seven years the production company behind the Quibi shows will own their intellectual property, and after two years those producers will be able to repackage the Quibi content back into long-form series and pitch them for distribution to other platforms. Not only that, but Quibi is fronting the money for over 100 percent of the production.

Katzenberg said that it “will create the most powerful syndicated marketplace” Hollywood has seen in decades. It’s a sort of anti-Netflix model where Katzenberg and Whitman view Quibi as a platform where creators and talent will want to come. “We are betting on the success of the platform — and by the way, it worked brilliantly in the ’60s and ’70s and ’80s.” Katzenberg said. “Hundreds of TV shows were tremendous successes and [like the networks then] we don’t want to compete with our suppliers.”

In addition to the business model innovations (or throwbacks, depending on how one looks at it), Quibi is being built from the ground up with a technology stack that will leverage new technologies like 5G broadband, and big data and analytics, according to Whitman.

Indeed, launching the first platform built without an existing stable of content means that Quibi is preparing 5,000 unique pieces of content to go up when it pulls the curtains back on its service in late 2019 or early 2020, Whitman said.

And the company is looking to big telecommunications companies like Verizon (my corporate overlord’s corporate overlord) and AT&T as partners to help it get to market. Since those networks need something to do with all the 5G capacity they’re building out, high-quality streaming content that’s replete with meta-tags to monitor and manage how an audience is spending their time is a compelling proposition.

“We want to work to have video that looks good on mobile [and] ramp up content in terms of quantity and quality,” Whitman said. That quality extends to things like the user interface, search features and analytics.

“We have to have a different search and find metaphor,” Whitman said. “It takes eight minutes to find what you’re looking for on Netflix… We will be able to instrument this with data on what people are watching and using that in our recommendation engine.”

Questions remain about the service’s viability. Like what role will the telcos actually play in distribution and development? Can Quibi avoid the Hulu problem where the various investors are able to overcome their own entrenched interests to work for the viability of the platform? And do consumers even want a premium experience on mobile given the new kinds of stars that are made through the immediacy and accessibility that technology platforms like YouTube, Instagram and Snap offer?

“Where the fish are today is a phenomenal environment,” Katzenberg said of the current short-form content market. “But it is an ocean. We need to find a place where there are these premium services.”


Source: The Tech Crunch

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AT&T details its streaming service plans as it weighs a sale of its Hulu stake

Posted by on Nov 30, 2018 in AT&T, Hulu, Media, streaming service, streaming TV, Television, Time Warner, WarnerMedia | 0 comments

AT&T may be ready to sell its stake in Hulu, the company revealed in an analyst presentation on Thursday. The company currently owns a 10 percent stake in the service by way of WarnerMedia, as a result of its Time Warner acquisition. But AT&T today is running its own streaming services, including live TV service DirecTV Now aimed at cord cutters, and a more lightweight WatchTV. It’s also preparing to launch yet another direct-to-consumer streaming service in 2019 that leverages its WarnerMedia properties.

The company offered a few more details about this new service during the presentation, noting that it will have three tiers of service.

The entry-level package will be focused on movies, followed by a premium service with original programming and “blockbuster movies.” The third service will include content from the first two tiers, then add an “extensive library of WarnerMedia and licensed content,” including classics, kids and family programming, comedy and other theatrical releases and niche content.

The service will launch into beta in Q4 2019, AT&T said, and will complement WarnerMedia’s existing business. It will also work across devices, and will expand over time to include third-party content through partnerships.

As for selling its stake in Hulu, the company is “looking for opportunities to monetize assets” that are not essential to its current strategies, explained AT&T CFO John Stephens. He said the company was looking at its “minority investments in things like Sky México or Hulu or a variety of other things.”

The mention of the Hulu sale was a part of a larger discussion about paying down $18 billion of AT&T’s $20 billion in debt by the end of next year, which involved raising up to $8 billion in cash by the sale of some assets. The Hulu stake could be worth up to $930 million, Variety notes.

Also of note was the company’s not-so-vague threat that WarnerMedia would not be renewing its licensing deals with rival streaming services when their rights expire.

Asked how the new direct-to-consumer effort will be able to compete with incumbents, WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey responded that over the next 18 to 24 months, “we’re going to see a pretty substantial structural shift that’s going to occur…some of the incumbents that are in that space today should expect that their libraries are going to get a lot thinner,” he said.

“Seventy-five to 80 percent of their total viewing tonnage is sitting on a lot of that licensed content. So their pressure is they’ve got to make this pivot over the next 18 to 24 months to get people off of viewing the licensed content that maybe sits in our library or sits in a Disney/Fox library, and get it onto their own,” Stankey added.

The company believes that, over time, it will be able to bring in enough new subscribers to its streaming offers to offset the declines related to cord cutting, which is impacting its satellite TV company DirectTV. In Q3 2019, the company lost 359,000 net DirecTV subscribers as more consumers dropped pay TV in favor of streaming services, like Netflix.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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AT&T is now the sole owner of Otter Media

Posted by on Aug 7, 2018 in AT&T, crunchyroll, fullscreen, Media, Rooster Teeth, The Chernin Group | 0 comments

Otter Media is no longer a joint venture between AT&T and The Chernin Group — AT&T announced today that it has acquired The Chernin Group’s controlling interest in the digital media company.

Otter Media was founded in 2014 and owns Ellation (which in turn owns anime streamer Crunchyroll and subscription video service Vrv) and Fullscreen (which owns Rooster Teeth).

It will now become a part of AT&T’s WarnerMedia unit, which was created with the acquisition of Time Warner. Tony Goncalves, the AT&T executive who became Otter Media’s CEO earlier this year, will continue to run the company.

The New York Times reports that analysts valued the deal at more than $1 billion.

“We are thrilled to incorporate the Otter Media brands and talent into WarnerMedia,” said WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey in the announcement. “Working with Tony, we look to harness Otter’s expertise in feeding the passion of on-line audiences to augment our portfolio of digital assets and help us further engage, connect and entertain consumers around the globe.”

AT&T says Otter Media has built up an audience of 93 million unique viewers each month and has 2 million paying subscribers.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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The Department of Justice isn’t done fighting the AT&T-Time Warner merger

Posted by on Jul 12, 2018 in AT&T, M&A, Media, Policy, Time Warner | 0 comments

The U.S. Department of Justice has filed to appeal a federal judge’s decision to approve AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner.

Back when he was campaigning for the presidency, Donald Trump said his administration would block the deal, and indeed, the DOJ sued to stop the merger, arguing it would hurt competition.

Last month, however, U.S. District Court Judge Richard J. Leon ruled that the deal could move forward without conditions. He said from the bench, “The court has now spoken. … The defendants have won” — and the deal closed later that week.

In fact, we’re already starting to see some of the fallout, with AT&T’s reported plans for Time Warner-owned HBO leading to a flurry of worried headlines in just the past couple days.

The deal also seemed to set the stage for even more consolidation between telecom and media companies, leading Comcast to challenge Disney for ownership of Fox’s film and TV assets. (TechCrunch was already a very small part of this trend, since we’re owned by Verizon.)

“The Court’s decision could hardly have been more thorough, fact-based, and well-reasoned,” said AT&T General Counsel David McAtee in a statement. “While the losing party in litigation always has the right to appeal if it wishes, we are surprised that the DOJ has chosen to do so under these circumstances. We are ready to defend the Court’s decision at the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.”


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Trump administration appeals court loss in AT&T/Time Warner case

Posted by on Jul 12, 2018 in AT&T, Policy, Time Warner | 0 comments

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson)

The US Department of Justice will appeal the court ruling that allowed AT&T to purchase Time Warner Inc.

AT&T completed the merger after getting a favorable ruling from a judge at the US District Court for the District of Columbia last month. The Trump administration’s Justice Department did not seek a stay of the ruling, so AT&T was able to take ownership of Time Warner. But the DOJ is appealing the judge’s ruling to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the DOJ said in a court filing today.

A court could theoretically force AT&T and Time Warner to reverse the merger. AT&T said it would maintain some separation between its old and new business units in a post-verdict letter to the DOJ. That separation might make undoing the merger logistically easier if the DOJ wins its appeal.

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Source: Ars Technica

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AT&T promised lower prices after Time Warner merger—it’s raising them instead

Posted by on Jul 2, 2018 in AT&T, Biz & IT, DIRECTV, Time Warner | 0 comments

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson)

AT&T is raising the base price of its DirecTV Now streaming service by $5 per month, despite promising in court that its acquisition of Time Warner Inc. would lower TV prices.

AT&T confirmed the price increase to Ars and said it began informing customers of the increase this past weekend. “The $5 increase will go into effect July 26 for new customers and varies for existing customers based on their billing date,” an AT&T spokesperson said.

The $5 increase will affect all DirecTV Now tiers except for a Spanish-language TV package, AT&T told Ars. That means the DirecTV Now packages that currently cost $35, $50, $60, and $70 a month will go up to $40, $55, $65, and $75.

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Source: Ars Technica

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Netflix and Alphabet will need to become ISPs, fast

Posted by on Jun 12, 2018 in Alphabet, AT&T, Media, Netflix, Time Warner | 0 comments

This week completely scrambled the video landscape, and its implications are going to take months to fully understand.

First is the district court’s decision to approve the merger of AT&T and Time Warner announced just moments ago. That will create one of the largest content creation and distribution companies in the world when it closes. It is also expected to encourage Comcast to make a similar bid for 21st Century Fox, further consolidating the market. As Chip Pickering, CEO of pro-competition advocacy org INCOMPAS put it, “AT&T is getting the merger no one wants, but everyone will pay for.”

But the second major story was the final (final final) repeal of the FCC’s net neutrality rules yesterday that will allow telecom companies like AT&T to prioritize their own content over that of competitors. In the past, AT&T didn’t have all that much content, but the addition of Time Warner now gives them a library encompassing Warner Bros. to TBS, TNT, HBO and CNN. Suddenly, that control over prioritization just got a lot more powerful and profitable.

The combination of these two stories is spooking every video on demand service, from YouTube to Netflix . If Comcast bids and is successful in buying 21st Century Fox, then connectivity in the United States will be made up of a handful of gigantic content library ISPs, and a few software players that will have to pay a premium to deliver their content to their own subscribers. While companies like Netflix and Alphabet have negotiated with the ISPs for years, the combination of these two news stories puts them in a significantly weaker negotiating position going forward.

While consumers still have some level of power — ultimately, ISPs want to deliver the content that their consumers want — a slow degrading of the experience for YouTube or Netflix could be enough to move consumers to “preferred” content. Some have even called this the start of the “cable-ification” of the internet. AT&T, for instance, has wasted no time in creating prioritized fast lanes.

That world is not automatic though, because Alphabet, Netflix and other video streaming services have options on how to respond.

For Alphabet, that will likely mean a redoubling of its commitment to Google Fiber. That service has been trumpeted since its debut, but has faced cutbacks in recent years in order to scale back its original ambitions. That has meant that cities like Atlanta, which have held out for the promise of cheap and reliable gigabit bandwidth, have been left in something of a lurch.

Ultimately, Alphabet’s strategic advantage against Comcast, AT&T and other massive ISPs is going to rest on a sort of mutually assured destruction. If Comcast throttles YouTube, then Alphabet can propose launching in a critical (read: lucrative) Comcast market. Further investment in Fiber, Project Fi or perhaps a 5G-centered wireless strategy will be required to give it to the leverage to bring those negotiations to a better outcome.

For Netflix, it is going to have to get into the connectivity game one way or the other. Contracts with carriers like Comcast and AT&T are going to be more challenging to negotiate in light of today’s ruling and the additional power they have over throttling. Netflix does have some must-see shows, which gives it a bit of leverage, but so do the ISPs. They are going to have to do an end-run around the distributors to give them similar leverage to what Alphabet has up its sleeve.

One interesting dynamic I could see forthcoming would be Alphabet creating strategic partnerships with companies like Netflix, Twitch and others to negotiate as a collective against ISPs. While all these services are at some level competitors, they also face an existential threat from these new, vertically merged ISPs. That might be the best of all worlds given the shit sandwich we have all been handed this week.

One sad note though is how much the world of video is increasingly closed to startups. When companies like Netflix, which today closed with a market cap of almost $158 billion, can’t necessarily get enough negotiating power to ensure that consumers have direct access to them, no startup can ever hope to compete. America may believe in its entrepreneurs, but its competition laws have done nothing to keep the terrain open for them. Those implications are just beginning.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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