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DirecTV Now, Sling Cloud DVR Announcements Take OTT Really Over the Top

The week after Thanksgiving started off the holiday season with a bang, giving those who want over-the-top (OTT) TV services — or those who sell, install or use devices that access OTT services — something to be thankful for.

Previously teased about and long expected, the first of the two announcements came from AT&T entertainment group’s DirecTV. The company’s new DirecTV Now service became available this week with a wide range of content channels from established providers, local broadcast channels and targeted “social-first” entertainment.

Competing with OTT services such as Sling and Sony’s PlayStation Vue, DirecTV Now is not just another streaming service to complement the existing DirecTV business. According to John Stankey, CEO of AT&T’s entertainment group, the new service promoted under the banner of “Let Freedom Stream” will be “the foundation for what we do in the future.” He went on to state that DirecTV Now will give AT&T “full control over the full stack” and that the initial offering is just the start of new services, content and business.

Claiming that 50 percent of their current customers use something other than a TV on the wall and that more than 20 million TV households are not in the pay-TV ecosystem, mobile and millennial customers are clearly the target.

The four price tiers range from $35/month to $70/month, with HBO and Cinemax as add-ons for $5 each. The pricing is, for the most part, slightly below Sling and Vue, however during an unspecified introductory period, the $60 Go Big tier with 100-plus channels will be priced at $35 a month, giving the new service a major discount position against its competitors. Pointing to a personalized, rules-free service, there will be no contracts or credit checks.

Notably missing from the channel line-ups are CBS and Showtime, though they are also not available on the other platforms as CBS restricts their networks’ content outside of the CBSN streaming channel and select local stations to their CBS All Access service. However, Brad Bentley, executive VP marketing, said: “We’re working on it.”

Ultra HD 4K content will not be available at launch but is expected to be added.

Compatible devices at launch will be Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick, Android mobile devices, iPhone/iPad, AppleTV, Google Chromecast and Googlecast-enabled LeEco and Vizio displays, as well as Internet Explorer, Chrome and Safari browsers. Roku streaming players and TVs, Samsung smart TVs, and Amazon Fire tablets will be added to the compatible device roster in 2017.

Complementing service availability, promotional incentives include a free Apple TV with three-month prepaid subscription or an Amazon Fire TV Stick with a one-month pre-paid subscription. Free trial subscriptions range from one month with the purchase of an Intel-based Lenovo laptops and three to twelve months for LeEco TVs. As an additional incentive, and evidencing the tie to the corporate parent, AT&T Mobility customers have the use of unlimited data for DirecTV Now streaming, exempting it from data caps.

Not to be outdone on a hot news day for the streaming world, Sling TV had a major announcement of its own. Earlier in the day the OTT streaming service owned by Dish Networks, DirecTV’s arch rival, announced that they will be offering a Cloud DVR program. Available initially to existing Sling customers with a Roku player or Roku TV who request an invitation, the program will start in December.

A key feature of Sling’s Cloud DVR option is that there will be no 28-day restriction for content storage, as is the case with their competitor PlayStation Vue. Sling customers will be able to record and store up to 100 hours of content on multiple programs simultaneously, with no recording conflicts.

Full DVR functionality, including pause, rewind and fast-forward, will be available on many (but not all) content channels, while some will offer basic record/store/playback only. The channels that will offer full DVR control were not announced.

Noting that the beta program is just the start, Sling expects to add additional streaming device compatibility and, based on the results of the test, additional storage capacity.

While both concepts and services will only be sold directly, they do bring an additional rationale to consumers looking to purchase a stand-alone streaming device or select smart-TV brands and models. Of course, as the spread of additional Wi-Fi-centric devices in a home further strains home networks, they also provide additional incentive to promote upgraded Wi-Fi hardware and installation.

Going into the heart of the holiday selling season, the growth of OTT offerings on multiple fronts can only serve to expand the market on a number of levels.