DirecTV outlines 4K plans

DirecTV released its year-end and Q4 numbers on February 19th, and reporting that it added a net 149,000 subscribers in Q4 and an increase in revenues of 3.8 per cent to $8.92 billion. North American ARPU grew 5 per cent to $117.30, and the year ended with 20.35 million US customers.  Latin America saw a net gain of 903,000 subs amidst “outstanding” performance.

But CEO Mike White also used the occasion to caution enthusiasm for OTT supply of content, saying that margins on OTT “are pretty thin” and “it’s not clear to me that it’s a particularly profitable idea,” he added, saying: “It is something we are considering.”

“We introduced global viewing history, which allows our customers to start watching a show on one device and pick it up on another device right where they left off, including on the television,” said White, “and we successfully launched the DirecTV 14 satellite, which gives us both critical backup capacity for our HD programming in the US but also additional capacity for new services such as 4K Ultra HD.”

“And speaking of that, we recently began offering 4K Ultra HD VoD service, which was a first in the MVPD industry.”

As to 4K, White said “The first and most important question right now is what content is going to be available in 4K. Now there a lot of ways to get there. The best way is to shoot in 4K, but that’s quite expensive, and that’s why I don’t think you see any of the guys jumping in for linear streaming. And to be honest with you, I don’t expect to see linear streaming any time soon because of the cost, HD trucks and everything else that you’d have to – new cameras, you name it.”

“My own guess is VoD will be the first, particularly for movies, the first priority from a 4K standpoint, and that’s what we’re ready for. And we are working on getting more content available.  We have had a number of interesting conversations with programming partners about [what] few events we might want to partner up, maybe even with a television set manufacturer, the programmer and DirecTV and consider an individual event shooting in 4K and streaming that on DirecTV. The good news is with our new satellite capacity, we have the capacity to do linear channels. We have the capacity to do quite a bit more than we’re doing today. So we’ll be prepared either way it goes, but I think it’s interesting.  I think you’ll see more 4K TV sets sold this year based on the strength of the marketing that you’re seeing and lower prices from the TV set manufacturers. But I’m not building plans around all of the HD channels converting to 4K any time soon. But we’ll see down the road as things evolve.”

White told analysts that the broadcaster’s initial focus was to close the merger with AT&T, although admitted that visibility on when the deal would close was poor. “We have all of the international and state approvals that are required under the merger agreement, which leaves us with the FCC and the Department of Justice. The FCC’s comment period has run its course. Although until the question of whether third parties can review our programming agreements is fully answered, it’s difficult to say when the FCC process will conclude. As of today, the FCC’s informal clock runs out on March 23.”

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