In the ongoing battle for you—the wireless smartphone user—and your dollars, this is a big, bold move.
AT&T announced Wednesday that it’s now going to give customers who pay for its Unlimited Plus service free access to HBO.
It’s yet another substantial play by AT&T in what has become a heated competition against Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint. The telecom giants are squaring off against each other in an effort to attract consumers with better data plans at lower prices.
Now, AT&T’s tossing in something that’s difficult to match—free access to some of the highest quality TV out there. Why can they do that? Well, it certainly doesn’t hurt that AT&T’s currently in the process of acquiring HBO’s parent company, Time Warner (more on this below).
But as for the deal itself, it’s relatively straightforward: If you’re an Unlimited Plus user who doesn’t have HBO, you’ll either get it through your existing AT&T-based TV service. If you’re an Unlimited Plus user who doesn’t have any TV, you’ll be able to get HBO through the online DirecTV Now service. If you already pay for HBO, you’ll see your bill go down a bit.
Oh, and anything you stream from HBO won’t count against your data cap.
On its face, this is a pretty great deal, especially if you already love HBO. That’s a $15 per month value (based on how much HBO Now costs). AT&T’s Unlimited Plus plan still costs $90 per month, which is still pricier than its competitors. Getting HBO on top of that definitely helps sweeten the deal.
It’s hard to complain when competition between these companies leads to better deals for consumers, but the HBO offer is a double-edged sword—it’s also a dangerous step in what many industry watchers consider a bad long-term direction.
When AT&T (a company primarily in the business of content distribution via TV, internet, and wireless services) and Time Warner (a company that makes the TV and movies that companies like AT&T distribute) first entered into a deal to combine their companies, there were immediate concerns about whether or not combining two very powerful companies would really be a good thing for the industry and for consumers.
Put simply, the worry is that AT&T, with Time Warner under its purview, will wield too much power. Companies with too much power tend to push around their competitors, which is generally bad for the industry, but can also ultimately be bad for consumers, too.
AT&T, in this situation, could use its content ownership to offer its own customers great deals while making it very difficult for competitors to match. If this becomes the norm, it can get ugly—and in some ways, it’s already getting there.
AT&T’s willingness to offer up free HBO might be just the first example of how its acquisition of Time Warner will give it the ability to outdo competitors with its own content. For now, that’s good for consumers.
Operative term: For now.