Discovery Communications signed what it calls a “long-term agreement” with AT&T that, among other things, guarantees that the programmer will have a place in the lineup later this year when the telco introduces its potentially important DirecTV Now national streaming service.
The new terms provide AT&T’s DirecTV and U-verse with access to Discovery’s linear channels, including on-demand and TV Everywhere rights. Customers will have some latitude to temporarily download shows.
The deal’s noteworthy: Some analysts have wondered whether Discovery might be left out as pay TV and online distributors try to win cost-conscious viewers with bundles that offer fewer channels than the traditional expanded basic package but at a lower price.
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“We are pleased that we were able to get a win-win deal done with the largest distributor in the country,” says Discovery Domestic Distribution President Eric Phillips. “Our agreement greatly expands the AT&T platforms that will distribute our award-winning content, including future distribution on DirecTV Now for our portfolio of brands.”
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AT&T’s Chief Content Officer Dan York says that the deal shows “we are continuing to build a streaming service for the connected generation that we believe will be second-to-none in the industry.”
Discovery’s shares are down 6% so far this year, in part due to concerns about the prospects for its channels. Last month it disclosed that domestic subscriptions in Q2 were down 2% vs the same period last year due to cord cutting and shaving.
That heightened fears that the company might suffer from new bundles. “Not every programmer is on all skinny bundles,” MoffettNathanson Research’s Michael Nathanson noted. “Programmers with more long-tail digital networks are at a disadvantage.”
CEO David Zaslav has said that he considers Discovery to be “extremely well positioned if the U.S. shifts towards more skinny bundles.” His top six networks account for 85% of the company’s revenues, and Discovery could “even benefit from smaller bundles, especially if they attract new audiences, which has been our experience in markets around the world where we have been on skinnier bundles.”
AT&T and Discovery didn’t disclose financial terms of the deal. But they’re believed to be in the ball park with what Zaslav last month described as “favorable price increases” the programmer saw in previous deals with distributors including Comcast and Time Warner Cable.
That contributed to Discovery’s decision to raise its earnings growth guidance for this year to at least 20% from high teens.
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