AT&T battles cable, satellite TV services
New bundle uses telephone lines for video, voice, Net
Comparing AT&T and Comcast TV service
- Ellen Lee, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, December 22, 2006
AT&T launched a new television subscription service in select Bay Area cities Thursday, as it faces off against cable and satellite carriers and ushers in a new era of competition.
Called U-verse, AT&T's new television service is available in San Ramon, Danville, Cupertino and Saratoga, with plans for the rest of the Bay Area over the next two years.
Like AT&T's high-speed Internet service, U-verse uses telephone lines to send more than 300 television channels into the home. It represents a formidable threat to the cable television business since both can now sell discounted bundled packages, wrapping telephone, Internet and television services in one bill.
"There's a lot of pent-up demand for it," said Robert Serrano, an analyst at JupiterKagan Inc. "A lot of people just want to have that choice of competition."
AT&T's entrance into the Bay Area television market comes as the entertainment industry is undergoing a dramatic shift, with more and more consumers tuning in to the Web and watching video clips on YouTube, "Ugly Betty" on ABC.com or movie downloads from iTunes.
AT&T is spending $1 billion to upgrade its network in California so that it is fast enough for its services.
But the deployment has been delayed as AT&T, which teamed up with Microsoft Corp., Alcatel and Motorola, faced technical problems and local, state and national regulatory roadblocks. Key wins in California and the Federal Communications Commission are expected to lower those hurdles.
The East Bay and South Bay mark the third and fourth markets for AT&T's rollout. Already in San Antonio and Houston, with about 3,000 subscribers, AT&T plans to launch the service in 11 more markets before the year ends.
It expects to make it available to 19 million homes in the next two years.
"We're building as fast as we can," said Melba Muscarolas, vice president and general manager of AT&T's San Francisco Bay Area market. "We're eager to provide consumers with choice."
U-verse is comparable to Comcast's cable service, offering more than 300 channels from HBO to Disney and such features as video-on-demand and picture-in-picture. The price ranges from $44 per month for about 100 channels to $99 for 300 channels.
It also lets customers use the Web to program recordings remotely, something that Comcast doesn't now offer.
The package also includes three Motorola set-top boxes, one with a digital video recorder that can record up to four programs at once.
Because of the system's limitations, however, consumers can only watch one high-definition program at a time; AT&T said it expects consumers to be able to watch two high-definition programs simultaneously on their television sets next year. HD channels cost $10 more a month.
Even as AT&T moves into TV, Comcast is making inroads into AT&T's telephone market. It offers a special, one-year $99 package for telephone, television and Internet services.
AT&T's package costs $109 for similar services, known as the "triple play" in the telecom business.
Comcast said Thursday that AT&T will have to spend years and billions of dollars to catch up to the network it's already built.
"We don't see anything in their playbook that we can't meet or exceed," said Comcast spokesman Andrew Johnson. "We welcome them into the arena."
Though the cable industry has shrunk as consumers moved to satellite, it remains the dominant source for television service. Cable carriers made an estimated $68.2 billion in revenue this year from 67.4 million U.S. subscribers, according to JupiterKagan.
The satellite carriers made $22.7 billion from 29 million subscribers. AT&T is partnering with EchoStar to offer a package of satellite television, Internet and telephone services.
IPTV, or television service through telephone lines such as AT&T's U-verse, however, is only expected to reach 8 million subscribers and $4 billion in revenue by 2010, according to the Multimedia Research Group.
"They have a long way to go before they make a dent into Comcast," said Bob Larribeau, a San Francisco analyst with the Multimedia Research Group.
AT&T is also introducing three tiers of high-speed Internet access: $19.95 for speeds of up to 1.5 Mbps, $24.99 for speeds of up to 3.0 Mbps and $34.99 for speeds of up to 6.0 Mbps.
Comparing AT&T and Comcast TV service
25 HD channels
7,500 video-on-demand titles
$45 to $105 per month for television service only
$99 for unlimited local and long distance telephone, 100 television channels, 6 Mbps Internet access for 1 year, $129 thereafter
$5 per month for HD channels
25 HD channels
Declined to state, except to say "hundreds of hours" with more on the way
$44 to $99 per month for television service only
$109 for unlimited local and long distance telephone, 100 television channels, 6 Mbps Internet access, with a $15 monthly discount for bundling three services
$10 per month for HD channels
Remote access via Internet to digital video recorder
For more information: uverse.att.com
E-mail Ellen Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org