AT&T Set to Launch Skinny Bundle Service Dubbed WatchTV

ATT Building - Getty -  H 2018
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Available next week, the over-the-top service features more than 30 channels, including recently acquired CNN, TNT and TBS.

Making good on a promise to regulators who ultimately failed to block its merger with Time Warner, AT&T said Thursday it will debut WatchTV, a skinny, over-the-top service that features more than 30 channels, including recently acquired CNN, TNT and TBS. The service will launch next week. 

WatchTV, which BTIG analyst Richard Greenfield previously predicted would be a "bundle-buster," will be part of AT&T's new base unlimited plan that it is calling AT&T Unlimited & More, with other channels including History, AMC, Investigation Discovery and the Discovery Channel.

AT&T said its new offering will be available "on virtually any smartphone," as well as on certain streaming devices and, beyond the live channels, there will be 15,000 movies and TV shows available for on-demand viewing.

Additionally, AT&T is launching AT&T Unlimited & More Premium, where subscribers also choose one of either HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, Starz, Pandora Premium, Amazon Music Unlimited or, for anime and gaming fans, VRV. The premium service also includes access to high definition video and $15 monthly credit for DirecTV, DirecTV Now or U-verse TV, all of which are owned by AT&T.

AT&T Unlimited & More sells for $70 a month for a single phone line while the premium runs $80, with discounts for additional lines. Later, AT&T said it will offer WatchTV on a stand-alone basis for $15 a month.

The telecom giant's new offering will not only compete with Netflix, Sling TV, CBS All Access and other streamers, but also with big cable providers like Comcast and Charter Communications.

Randall Stephenson, the CEO of AT&T, teased WatchTV several times during testimony related to obtaining regulatory approval for the $85.4 billion acquisition of Time Warner, noting that traditional cable lost 3 million subscribers on a base of 90 million in 2017. He said customers were demanding skinny bundles with prices kept low because there would be no sports or broadcast channels included, and he suggested the best way get WatchTV to consumers quickly would be to allow the merger.

At one point during a trial pitting AT&T against the U.S. Justice Department, Judge Richard Leon asked Stephenson to predict the state of the TV industry seven years into the future.

"The need for people, for content creators, to go through cable companies and satellite companies to get their content to the consumer, that is a thing of the past," Stephenson told the judge. 

At another point in the trial, Stephenson said of cable TV: "This conversation feels a little bit like ones I used to have when wireless was replacing wireline telephones. We used to kid ourselves into thinking, 'you know, it’s not declining that fast;' and before long, it was gone. This is that same kind of trajectory that we’re on."

AT&T closed its acquisition of Time Warner last week and renamed the entity WarnerMedia.

”We were the first wireless provider to bring entertainment and unlimited data together, and, once again, we’re redefining what that means,” said David Christopher, president of AT&T Mobility and Entertainment, on Thursday.

“This is no longer about including one channel or service with your wireless plan, but an incredible lineup of content that delivers more of what you care about," Christopher said.