The fast-growing world of over-the-top video services is about to get a lot larger. By Nov. 1, AT&T's (T) - Get ReportDirectTV satellite service is expected to launch a video streaming service, DirecTV Now, with more than 100 channels in a bid to replicate its satellite offerings for online customers.
DirecTV, which announced its intention to launch the service earlier this year, has said little since then about its plans. A spokesman declined further comment.
Pricing plans are still in flux, but media executives with knowledge of DirecTV Now said the AT&T unit intends to offer more channels at a slightly higher price than those offered by SlingTV, the over-the-top service its largest competitor, Dish (DISH) - Get Report, launched earlier last year.
SlingTV has "quickly hit a wall," analyst Craig Moffett of MoffettNathanson wrote in a report in July. The service has lured a relatively paltry total of 707,000 subscribers since its launch, adding about 49,000 in the second quarter, Moffett estimated. The analyst has a sell recommendation on Dish stock.
A Dish spokesman had no comment.
Executives at DirecTV have lined up cable channels from Viacom (VIAB) - Get Report, which include its Nickelodeon and MTV channels, and Time Warner's (TWX) brace of channels including CNN, TBS and TNT, according to three people with knowledge of those deals.
DirecTV is negotiating as well with Comcast's (CMCSA) - Get Report NBC Universal unit and 21st Century Fox's (FOXA) - Get Report TV unit and could add their cable channels before launch, those people said. (Comcast is a portfolio company of Action Alerts PLUS, managed by TheStreet's founder, Jim Cramer.) Talks with CBS (CBS) - Get Reportare considered less likely. The broadcaster, which streams its programs on its CBS All Access service, is not on SlingTV.
Representatives for the content providers declined comment.
Disney CEO Bob Iger announced on Aug. 10 that the company will make all of its channels available to DirecTV, including the ABC network and ESPN sports channel.
"We expect the millions of people who don't now subscribe to a video service and prefer a streaming option will be impressed," AT&T CEO John Stephens told analysts during the company's second-quarter earnings call in July.
At launch DirecTV Now will aim to lure cord-cutters with packages that start with one that offers more than 50 channels including broadcast networks. Its most expensive package will offer more than 100 channels. Subscribers would prepay a monthly subscription that they could cancel at any time with no penalty.
A subscriber could stream video to as many as five devices.
SlingTV's packages start at $20 for 28 channels including ESPN, CNN and TBS but not such popular channels as Bravo and FX, which are offered on a package for $25 a month. Its most expensive package, for $40, offers 48 channels, according to its website.
Sling TV subscribers can pay $5 a month for each of eight add-on packages, including packages with news or sports. Another package provides programming from broadcast networks including ABC, NBC and Fox although not local channels in all markets. Subscribers to the most expensive package can stream programming to as many as three devices, and any subscriber can cancel at any time.
"Cost is one element of the consumer evaluation," said Blair Westlake, a former Universal TV chairman and top Microsoft (MSFT) - Get Report executive who negotiated content agreements for the software giant's Xbox gaming console. "DirecTV can overcome the higher cost issue if it also offers more of the content that the user wants to watch -- but so much depends on that content."
The DirecTV Now service joins a crowded field among online video services that includes Sony's (SNE) - Get Report Vue service, which offers packages with more than 100 channels for $54.99. CBS also signed on an estimated 1 million subscribers for its CBS Access service, which it sell for $5.99 a month with ads and $8.99 monthly with no commercials for its on-demand offerings and original series.
Hulu, the streaming service backed by the larger content creators and networks, plans its own cable TV-like streaming service next year.
"It looks like the 'traditional cable bundle' is dying a rapid death," says digital consultant Bernard Gershon, president of Gershon Media and a former Disney TV executive, "and it's getting very crowded."
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held positions in AT&T, Disney, CBS, Comcast, Microsoft and Viacom.