With Netflix gaining ground, AT&T rolls out 'U-verse Movies' platform

Jim O'Neill Fierce IPTV editor

How worrisome is "The Netflix Phenomenon" to pay-TV providers? There's a lot of noise in the space about how content providers have learned their collective lessons and will never allow the video delivery service to have "cheap content" again. As a whole, most have publicly adopted the "we'll make them pay next time" stance of folks like Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes, who has said he'll make sure the Starz content he sells Netflix next time will have a more appropriate price tag. Ditto HBO and the rest of TW's stable of programming.

But the more telling trend is the one that sees operators themselves trying to out Netflix Netflix.

AT&T, for example, earlier this month rolled out a rebranded video on demand service--dubbed U-verse Movies--because, it says, consumers' movie habits are changing. "We know that our viewers have more ways to rent movies than they did before," said John Blinkiewicz, AT&T's executive director of marketing. "As on demand has grown up in the business, we're pretty confident that we deliver a platform that's the best in the industry. And now, we think we're taking that and moving it to what we believe is another level with the launch of U-verse Movies."

AT&T is focusing on the quality of the service, the depth of content and, perhaps most importantly, the fact that movies will be available on AT&T 28 days before they're available to Netflix's DVD by mail service and far earlier than they're available to stream on Netflix.

"As we see the industry kind of growing up around us, obviously Netflix and Redbox have replaced the Blockbusters and such in the world," he said. "We want our customers to see us as their first choice, to know that they can get all the first run movies from us sooner, at a higher quality and with a lot more convenience."

AT&T launched the rebranding effort Jan. 5 and Blinkiewicz said it would "push it out louder and louder" during the year. "On demand is an important piece of U-verse," he said. "We're focused on it because it's such a growing aspect of the service."

And, he said, keeping pace with--and beating--Netflix is critical.

"It's extremely important that we beat Netflix to the punch," he said. "We've always had our eyes on the competition. Now that we see the share, or the shift that's going on in consumer behavior in this space, it's important for us to refocus our efforts."

Blinkiewicz said AT&T's on-demand statistics have been "phenomenal."

"I'd put our stats against anybody in the industry," he said. Unfortunately, he declined to share them.

The U-verse Movies rebranding push initially has focused on television, but the goal is to eventually have a fluid, three-screen product encompassing TV, U-verse Mobile and U-verse Online. Those pieces will become deeper ingrained as AT&T develops content-rights deals on a studio-by-studio basis, Blinkiewicz said. But AT&T will continue to pursue them, despite hurdles.

"It's a challenging time for the entire industry," he said. "And we feel that it's important that we're there in the forefront, having the conversations to talk through new business models. We will continue to evolve. We're not planning on standing still." - Jim