AT&T U-verse Sees Surge in TV Everywhere

Telco Still Mulls Whether to Extend Experience to TV-Connected Devices
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The cable industry isn’t the only one that’s trying to push the needle on TV everywhere.

AT&T U-verse has been actively promoting its authenticated multiscreen platform and said it has generated some positive results from those efforts.

Total viewing minutes on TVE apps were up 30% in the first half of 2014, while the total number of sessions (the times customers accessed AT&T’s apps) has jumped 60% during the same time frame.

“We’re seeing really good growth,” GW Shaw, AT&T’s vice president of U-verse and video product marketing, said, attributing that to the telco’s efforts to educate consumers about the app online, during customer-service calls and even through snail mail.

“Consumers are becoming more savvy as they search for content,” Shaw said. “They’re finding it on our site and in our applications.”

A study conducted last October also shed light on Uverse customer viewing habits, with 52% of respondents saying they watch TV content on mobile devices, and 36% saying their children frequently watch video on mobile screens; the latter is about even with the 34% who said they watch on a traditional TV.

Those trends are fueling AT&T’s decision to focus its TVE efforts on Web browsers and iOS- and Android-powered tablets and phones, and to thus far eschew support on TV-connected platforms such as the Google Chromecast, Roku, the Amazon Fire TV box, or the new Xbox One or PlayStation 4.

For now, AT&T doesn’t add much value there because the experience and the amount of content offered would not be on par with what it offers on its own IP-connected boxes. AT&T U-verse used to offer its IPTV service on Microsoft’s Xbox 360 consoles, but dropped support at the end of 2013, citing “low customer demand” for it.

“You need to take a step back and think through, what is the best experience for the consumer?” Shaw said. “If the customer already has a U-verse set-top box, then what additional benefit do we deliver to that customer by putting it on a gaming device?”

But AT&T’s absence on those TV-connected platforms will likely be temporary, as “it’s absolutely something we can do there, and it’s something that we’re going to do there,” Shaw said, noting that U-verse’s all-IP platform means it has the infrastructure in place to support TVE on connected TV retail platforms.

“We’re working through what the specific experience looks like,” he said. “We’re already delivering the most advanced service that we can to every set-top box in every single home.”

Heading into 2015, Shaw said, AT&T’s game plan is to expand the amount of content it offers on its TVE platform and back it with recommendation and personalization features that also aim to boost usage and to help viewers navigate large libraries (U-verse TV already uses Jinni’s platform to power a mood-based video discovery engine for its set-top box platform). Today, the AT&T TVE app supports about 200 live TV channels in the home and provides access to roughly 100 channels to customers when they are on the go.

“My hope is that we start to get to a place where we have similar rights that work across all of the platforms and work no matter where the customer is,” Shaw said.

Shaw also acknowledged that AT&T is keeping a close eye on 4K/Ultra HD, which was again a huge focus at last week’s International CES.

“4K has the opportunity to be really big,” he said. “I think we’ll see 4K start to expand more on the VOD offerings, and then live TV will be a follower.”

DirecTV, Comcast and Dish Network are the only U.S.-based pay TV providers to launch or announce 4K service plans. AT&T hasn’t pinpointed a launch timeframe for an Ultra HD product, but 4K “is absolutely something we are looking at, something we’re excited about,” Shaw said. “Our 100% IP platform puts us in a really good place for 4K.”

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