AT&T’s $85.4 billion acquisition of Time Warner hasn’t yet completed, but the company is already leveraging Time Warner assets to boost its own services – first with its streaming TV service DirecTV Now, which is currently giving out free HBO, and now today it’s rolling out free HBO to AT&T’s “Unlimited Plus” wireless plan subscribers. The channel will be offered to both AT&T video subscribers and wireless-only customers, AT&T says.
For any Unlimited Plus wireless customer who also subscribes to one of AT&T’s video services, including DirecTV Now, DirecTV, or U-verse, the channel will be offered for free through the service they already use. If they had previously signed up for HBO, they’ll no longer have to pay for it. And if they didn’t, it will become free.
This goes beyond the “free HBO” that DirecTV Now was touting earlier, as that was meant to be a limited-time promotion that would expire after a year’s time.
That wasn’t the first time that AT&T used HBO to attract customers. Before, AT&T had launched DirecTV Now with an offer of HBO for only $5 extra per month – well under the price for the streaming service HBO NOW, or the add-on available on rival streaming services, like Sling TV.
Along with the launch of free HBO, AT&T is also incentivizing customers to sign up for its video services by offering a $25 monthly video credit towards DirecTV, internet-only DirecTV Now, or U-verse. This credit remains as long as the customers are on the Unlimited Plus wireless plan.
But you don’t have to subscribe to an AT&T video service to take advantage of the free HBO, AT&T says (though clearly it would like you to do so.) If you don’t, you’ll instead be able to log in to either the DirecTV Now or HBO GO app to watch the HBO content.
DirecTV Now users get three HBO channels (HBO, HBO East, and HBO Family), while DirecTV customers get 10 (East and West coast feeds of HBO, HBO2, HBO Family, as well as HBO Comedy, Latino, Signature, Zone, and On Demand). U-verse customers gain 14 channels.
The Unlimited Plus plan itself includes unlimited data, talk and text, plus 10 GB of Wi-Fi tethering per phone, with speeds that slow after 22 GB of data usage per line.
Streaming HBO doesn’t count against the data cap, a practice known as zero rating.
Zero-rated video services is something rival T-Mobile is also doing, through its Binge On service, which also includes HBO NOW, and most other top video services like Amazon, YouTube, Netflix, Sling TV, Hulu, WatchESPN and more.
Under the Obama administration, the FCC was concerned about zero rating – especially AT&T’s plans to zero rate DirecTV Now and Verizon’s zero rating of go90 [disclosure: Verizon owns TechCrunch parent AOL] – which it felt could give the companies an unfair advantage.
But under the Trump administration, probes into zero rating were killed off, as new FCC chairman said the organization’s focus would no longer be on “denying Americans free data.”
We should also note that free HBO via AT&T’s wireless plan isn’t a promotion for new customers – it will apply to existing subscribers, too.