If you believe the rumor mill and out-of-context statements from people like AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, the writing’s on the wall for satellite, and for DIRECTV’s own branded receivers. Of course, Mr. Stephenson didn’t say that exactly, but the rumor-mongers on the web love to take one word and stretch it out to mean a whole bunch of things. It’s all opinion and conjecture now anyway, so let’s talk about a possible future.
No, AT&T is not shutting down satellite television.
The company just launched two massive satellites and is gearing up to push a lot of 4K content (once there is some.) The satellite end of the business is shrinking to be sure, but it’s not going away, not for a long time.
Yes, a lot of words have been written about AT&T’s recent subscriber losses, but the second quarter is almost always soft and is generally offset by third quarter gains. The bigger story here is strong gains in the DIRECTV NOW product which, while not as profitable in the short term, has lower operating costs and is seen as a generally more desirable product to younger people.
No, DIRECTV is not getting rid of traditional receivers.
Although, I’ll tell you that since the release of the Genie in 2012, the writing has been on the wall for the traditional set-top box. Using a single DVR with small, efficient clients has been a real hit for most people, although power users do complain about speed and flexibility.
Recent FCC leaks have shown a new AT&T branded Android box which may or may not have the ability to work with future DVRs (depending on how you read the leaked owner’s manual.) Now, one thing people don’t realize is that DIRECTV already has an Android-based client. It’s built into the app that installers use to set up the Genie 2 server. They use this app to activate everything instead of setting up a client. It’s intentionally crippled so it can’t actually be used to watch most channels or schedule recordings, but it still shows that it’s possible to do a full-featured DIRECTV client, in software, on a phone or set-top box.
For the moment, DIRECTV’s many commercial customers can’t use Genie hardware, so they use traditional receivers like the H25. Hotels use this receiver as well, and these are two very important markets for DIRECTV. So traditional receivers aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
If we accept that subscriber numbers are probably on a downward trend for the near future, the best thing the company can do is save money where it makes sense, and using off-the-shelf hardware instead of custom electronics might be a good idea. After all, today’s $50 streaming boxes are several generations more powerful than an H25.
No, AT&T isn’t going to a 100% 5G delivery system.
Look, everyone knows that AT&T is investing in 5G for “fixed wireless” systems. In a fixed wireless system, an antenna on the roof feeds your whole home network, including all your Wi-Fi. This seems right up AT&T’s alley, as they already have cell towers and already put things on people’s roofs. But I see this as a slow-but-steady enhancement to satellite TV, not as a replacement. It will replace your cable company’s internet to be sure and open you up to a world of bundling discounts. With the right system, you wouldn’t be able to tell if your TV picture was coming from the internet or from a satellite. I think that’s a good thing.
So folks… don’t panic and think that the DIRECTV service you know and love is going away. It isn’t. It’s just turning into one part of an entertainment suite that includes cellular, 5G, satellite, and traditional internet. By 2020, you might choose to use a smart TV or streaming box to get your DIRECTV service, but I promise, it won’t be your only choice.