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AT&T’s Optional ‘Stream Saver’ Feature Will Throttle Streaming Video Starting in 2017

AT&T today announced a new “Stream Saver” feature, which it says is a “free and convenient” data-saving option that allows customers to watch more video by downgrading video quality.

Stream Saver mimics T-Mobile’s Binge On option, automatically streaming video at “about 480p,” or standard definition quality instead of high definition quality.

AT&T is making Stream Saver an optional feature, with customers able to turn it on and off at will using myAT&T or Premier for business customers. According to AT&T, Stream Saver can be toggled off at any time with no charge to AT&T customers. While it is available for most streaming video, AT&T says Stream Saver is not able to detect and optimize all video due to the way some content owners deliver video streams.

As an optional feature that isn’t limited to specific content partners, Stream Saver does not seem to raise the same questions about net neutrality that have caused T-Mobile’s Binge On feature to be scrutinized by the FCC.

Through Binge On, T-Mobile offers free video streaming at 480p when customers watch content from select partners. T-Mobile has dozens of audio and video partners, including YouTube, Amazon Video, Netflix, Sling TV, VUDU, HBO NOW, Showtime, Hulu, and more.

AT&T plans to make Stream Saver available to customers starting in early 2017.

Tag: AT&T
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AT&T Plans to Gift Free Apple TV to DirecTV Now Subscribers Who Commit to 3+ Months of Service

AT&T plans to gift a free Apple TV to DirecTV Now subscribers who commit to at least three months of paid service, according to documents seen by Variety. Likewise, customers who pay for at least one month of service will allegedly receive a free Fire TV stick. The promotion ensures early subscribers will have at least one device with access to DirecTV Now when it launches.

DirecTV Now is AT&T’s internet-based live TV streaming service slated to launch in late 2016. The cord-cutter service will start at $35 per month and provide access to more than 100 channels, such as ABC, A&E, CBS, ESPN, Fox, HBO, MTV, NBC, Nickelodeon, and Discovery, on smartphones, tablets, streaming boxes, and other devices. Availability of channels may vary based on regional restrictions.

DirecTV Now will reportedly include a 72-hour catch-up window, allowing subscribers to watch TV shows they missed up to three days later, alongside a video-on-demand library of up to 14,000 titles. A free 7-day trial will be available upon launch.

Related Roundups: Apple TV, tvOS 10
Tags: AT&T, DirecTV Now
Buyer’s Guide: Apple TV (Caution)
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DOJ sues DirecTV for conspiring against LA Dodgers (updated)

The Department of Justice announced on Wednesday that it is bringing suit against DirecTV for its role in an alleged collusion scheme involving the broadcast rights to Los Angeles Dodgers games. Specifically, the DOJ asserts that DirecTV and three of its competitors — Cox, Charter and AT&T — shared “agreed to and did exchange non-public information about their companies’ ongoing negotiations” with SportsNet LA, the only channel authorized to show Dodgers games.

The DOJ filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California and alleges that the four companies essentially gave each other a heads up as to their individual progress in negotiating with SportsNet LA and whether they’d actually carry the channel should they be successful. Doing so, the DOJ argues, allowed the companies to not only gain unfair bargaining leverage but also minimize their subscriber losses should only one company be successful.

What’s more, the DOJ is saying that the reason that none of these companies have yet to carry SportsNet LA is a direct result of their collusion and in doing so, they’ve prevented a large swath of fans from watching the games over the past three seasons. “As the complaint explains,” Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Sallet of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division stated. “Dodgers fans were denied a fair competitive process when DIRECTV orchestrated a series of information exchanges with direct competitors that ultimately made consumers less likely to be able to watch their hometown team.”

Update: AT&T released the following comment to Engadget: “We respect the DOJ’s important role in protecting consumers, but in this case, which occurred before AT&T’s acquisition of DIRECTV, we see the facts differently. The reason why no other major TV provider chose to carry this content was that no one wanted to force all of their customers to pay the inflated prices that Time Warner Cable was demanding for a channel devoted solely to LA Dodgers baseball. We make our carriage decisions independently, legally and only after thorough negotiations with the content owner. We look forward to presenting these facts in court.”

Source: US Department of Justice


ICYMI: Halloween Spooktacular 2; The CGI reckoning

ICYMI: Halloween Spooktacular 2; The CGI reckoning
Today on In Case You Missed It: Disney figured out a way to make digitally generated faces in a fraction of the time it used to take with a head-worn camera rig. Designers in the Netherlands created a stilt-like elevator that relies on human power to get a person to climb up, though they say it requires very little effort to do it.

In TL;DR, we break down some of this week’s biggest headlines. Sadly we’d recorded before the Vine closure news broke so we’ll just express our collective sadness this way. Other notable headlines include Google firing Fiber employees and halting expansion of the internet service, and the AT&T customer data news.

If you’re looking for holiday inspiration, the thundercloud costume is here. Just a quick personal note: This is our second Halloween show and it was nearly as much fun for us as making the first. We’d love to see your holiday costumes and any interesting tech or science videos you might find by using the #ICYMI hashtag on Twitter for @mskerryd.


AT&T reportedly spies on its customers for government cash

AT&T controls a big chunk of America’s cellular infrastructure, and it turns out that it’s been using that power for super-creepy purposes. The Daily Beast is reporting that the telco has essentially turned itself into a spy-for-hire in the pay of the government. According to the piece, the company’s Project Hemisphere is providing warrantless surveillance, thanks to some legal gray areas, that score it millions of dollars from taxpayers.

The existence of Project Hemisphere has been known since the New York Times reported on it way back in 2013. Back then, it was presented as a minor tool that was only employed in a handful of states for specialized anti-drug operations. If these new revelations are accurate, then Hemisphere’s being used for a wide variety of crimes all across the country ranging from murder all the way through to Medicaid fraud. AT&T’s information is good enough that it can tell investigators where someone was when they made a call, who they were speaking to and, as we know from the EFF, it’s easy to divine intention just from those two pieces of information.

AT&T owns a massive proportion of America’s landline switches and cell towers and stores phone metadata for years, possibly decades. Ordinarily, this bulk collection is mandated by law and the data should be made available upon request with a warrant. AT&T, however, has decided that there’s money in this particular banana stand, and is going above and beyond the call of duty to data mine our personal data, turn it into a product and sell it off.

The company has already responded to the allegations, telling the Beast that there is “no special database.” Which is odd, because the site sources leaked documents where AT&T specifically requests that its name isn’t used in judicial proceedings. After all, if it has nothing to hide and isn’t doing anything dodgy, then why would it need to make outsized requests to protect its privacy? A cynic would say that AT&T values nobody’s privacy but its own, but that’d just be the cynic talking.

Source: The Daily Beast


AT&T’s streaming DirecTV service will cost $35 a month

It’s been just a few days since AT&T announced that it would be buying Time Warner for $85.4 billion. Now Time Warner CEO Jeffrey L. Bewkes and AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson are on stage at WSJD Live to talk a little more about their plans going forward. In particular, Stephenson announced that AT&T is going to release a new OTT offering called DirecTV Now for $35 a month. It’ll be an “all-in” service with 100 channels, and it’s coming by the end of this November.

“This deal was about one thing: how can we change the ecosystem?” said Stephenson, adding that it wasn’t about preserving the status quo. “I don’t think you can characterize it as defensive.”

“We’ve done video on-demand at HBO,” said Bewkes. “We knew people wanted it for every channel […] You should be able to get any network you want on demand.” He goes on to say that every TV channel should be as on-demand as HBO Now. Indeed, AT&T even wants Time Warner to break up channel bundles into a la carte offerings, which is relatively unheard of with most cable companies.

As for whether the merger will actually go through regulators, Stephenson was quite confident. He said that unlike their failed deal with T-Mobile, this isn’t nearly as high-risk. This is despite the backlash it’s received from both politicians and Wall Street, with everyone from Senator Al Franken to presidential candidate Donald Trump expressing their displeasure about the buyout.

Of course, Stephenson says that the deal is actually beneficial to consumers, saying that it’s now able to offer lower prices, such as the $35 streaming service. Plus he said that the market won’t really change. “When we wake up after this deal is approved, the wireless market will look exactly the same as it does today, and the media market will look exactly the same as it does today.” Time Warner, he said, will be run as a separate wholly owned subsidiary.

As for net neutrality concerns, Stephenson said that it’s no longer an issue. “You guys from Google, you won. It’s done. You don’t have to worry about net neutrality anymore.” He also says that there’s no real need to protect OTT competition, adding that “Netflix is probably going to be OK.”

tephenson also said that 1-gigabit 5G wireless service will be deployed in 2018. He said it’ll significantly accelerate media consumption on mobile, and will turn AT&T into a nationwide platform of video delivery.

In the end, the deal was about creating a nationwide competitor to cable. “I border on the evangelical about it,” said Stephenson. “This is the most exciting thing I’ve been a part of in a long time.”


AT&T’s internet-only DirecTV service launches in November

You don’t have to sit on pins and needles wondering when AT&T will launch DirecTV Now, its flagship internet-only streaming service. As part of a discussion of the Time Warner acquisition, AT&T chief Randall Stephenson has revealed that DirecTV Now will be ready in November. It might be a bargain, too — Stephenson vows that it will carry a price “radically lower” than competing offerings. Just what that means isn’t certain (which services and tiers are included in this comparison?), but it’s promising.

The news takes on added meaning in light of the Time Warner buyout. AT&T already had HBO and Cinemax lined up for DirecTV Now, but the Time Warner deal would give the streaming service a virtually guaranteed source of popular TV without having to work hard for a license. It could theoretically keep the price low without depriving you of must-watch programming. That’s assuming that regulators approve the deal in the first place, of course — there’s a concern that AT&T could punish rivals by either charging them more for Time Warner channels or denying some channels altogether.

Source: CNBC Now (Twitter)


UK spies paid a New Zealand firm to help tap key internet lines

It’s no longer a secret that the UK’s GCHQ was expanding its mass surveillance in the years before Edward Snowden’s leaks. However, it hasn’t really been clear as to who was helping it upgrade its spying campaign… until today. The Intercept and Television New Zealand have obtained documents showing that GCHQ purchased large amounts of “data acquisition” systems and “probes” from Endace, a New Zealand company that specializes in network data recording. The agency wanted to step up its monitoring of high-speed internet cables from 87 10Gbps lines in 2009 to 800 by 2013, and buying loads of Endace technology helped it edge closer to that goal.

This wasn’t off-the-shelf gear, either. A lot of it was “bespoke,” or custom-made for GCHQ’s operations. In one case, Endace developed a data capture system named Medusa that could intercept data flying by at up to 100Gbps.

It’s crucial to note that GCHQ isn’t Endace’s main customer, or that its products are all intended for unfettered network spying. It has a slew of financial, government and telecom clients, including Verizon (Engadget’s parent company), AT&T, Sprint, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley — and many of them don’t have much of a say as to whether or not they use this kind of equipment. Sprint bought a “lawful intercept” system to obtain private customer data only when the police demand it, for instance. The Endace connection is more an explanation of how intelligence agencies like GCHQ can scoop up so much data. It’s not necessarily a matter of developing exotic technology in-house. Sometimes, it’s just about finding companies whose tech is close enough and asking them to make something more spy-friendly.

Via: TechCrunch

Source: The Intercept, Television New Zealand


AT&T to buy Time Warner for $85.4 billion

After no small amount of anticipation, it’s official: AT&T has announced that it’s acquiring Time Warner for the equivalent of $85.4 billion in cash and stock. The move gives one of the US’ largest telecoms control over some of the biggest names in movies and TV, including HBO, Turner and Warner Bros. That includes rights to broadcast MLB, NBA and NCAA March Madness games, we’d add. If you ask AT&T, this is a “perfect match” that mates top-tier content with a ton of distribution points. It can easily deliver quality shows over the internet (particularly on mobile), conventional TV or in theaters — it won’t have to jump through hoops to license material for playback on your platform of choice.


Source: AT&T


Apple ‘Monitoring’ AT&T’s Potential Time Warner Acquisition

Amid rumors suggesting AT&T is considering purchasing Time Warner, the parent company of networks like CNN and HBO, The Wall Street Journal says Apple is keeping a close eye on the situation as it would have a major impact on the television industry and could potentially impact future television deals Apple might make with the two companies.

Apple at one time was reportedly in talks with Time Warner about a potential streaming television deal and has been rumored to have been interested in purchasing Time Warner assets at one time, but negotiations stalled and the two companies are no longer holding talks.

Apple Inc. a few months ago approached Time Warner Inc. about pursuing a combination, but the discussions didn’t progress beyond a preliminary stage and none are currently under way, people familiar with the matter said Friday. […]

From Apple’s end, executives under Chief Executive Tim Cook were involved in the earlier talks, and now Apple is monitoring the current situation, one of the people said

Time Warner owns a huge number of assets that could have serve as the foundation of a streaming television service should Apple have struck a deal with the company. Networks like CNN, HBO, TBS, TNT, NBA TV, Cartoon Network, and Warner Bros. are all under Time Warner’s umbrella, but with AT&T and Time Warner in “advanced talks” it seems unlikely Apple will do more than “monitor” the situation.

A deal between AT&T and Time Warner could be finalized as early as this weekend, but The Wall Street Journal suggests “a host of other contenders” could offer deals for Time Warner, putting an end to the AT&T acquisition.

Last year, Apple was pursuing a streaming television service that would allow it to offer a skinny bundle of channels from popular networks and cable companies for approximately $40 per month, but it wasn’t able to establish the necessary deals and shelved its plans.

Apple is instead leveraging the Apple TV set-top box as a platform that allows cable companies and other content providers to offer television shows and apps through an Apple-designed interface and user experience.

Just this week, Apple iTunes chief Eddy Cue said that television “needs to be reinvented” and called existing television interfaces “pretty brain dead.”

Related Roundups: Apple TV, tvOS 10
Tags: AT&T, Time Warner
Buyer’s Guide: Apple TV (Caution)
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