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Why AT&T Stream Saver Delivers A Win-Win For AT&T

by Nitesh Patel | Nov 14, 2016

On 11th November 2016 AT&T announced its entire branded subscriber base (post and prepaid) will have all detectable video streams limited to standard definition quality (~480p) through a new option called AT&T Stream Saver. AT&T Stream Saver will be turned on for all AT&T subscribers in early 2017, though AT&T customers that wish to stream video in full definition can opt-out. Stream Saver is a belated and direct response to T-Mobile’s USA’s Binge On and will deliver AT&T two main benefits:

  1. Easing overall data traffic network load – likely with greater impact than the 10%-12% reported by T-Mobile following the launch of Binge On
  2. Combating any negative perception that AT&T is less friendly than its competitor T-Mobile, by lowering the chance that users will exceed the data limit on their tariffs

Stream Saver will not deliver the same marketing hype that Binge On enjoyed because Stream Saver does not zero-rate all video streaming. However, we expect Stream Saver to deliver a more significant drop in data traffic than Binge On because AT&T is not offering zero-rated.

T-Mobile claimed Binge On, which delivered optimized video streaming to all it users, reduced network traffic load in the 10-12% range in the quarters following its launch, despite doubling mobile video use. Therefore, the amount of video consumed by AT&T customers is unlikely to double as reported by T-Mobile. The “zero-rated” option gave T-Mobile customers a clear green light to its customers to freely consume mobile video, while AT&T offering video optimization is more akin to an amber light, which will keep complete worry free mobile video use in check. Therefore, assuming that both the satisfaction rates for video streaming at standard defintion is similar to the 99% reported by Binge On users, we would expect low opt-out rates, and Stream Saver to have an overall larger impact on freeing up network load for AT&T.

While Stream Saver is not zero-rated video we still expect it to help AT&T counter negative perceptions that it is customer unfriendly, by helping users get more from their data allocation and reducing the chances of them exceeding their tariff data caps. Our research shows that 61% of US customers indicated a strong interest in staying with their current provider if their operator offered a similar service to Binge On, with a further 28% stating moderate interest. Although Stream Saver does not offer toll free video it does target a key painpoint for smartphone users of all networks, and provide an additional reason for AT&T subscribers not to churn. Furthermore, unlike T-Mobile One, AT&T is not charging its users a premium (of $25 per month per line) if they do decide they want to stream in HD over the cellular network. AT&T users can toggle Streaming Saver off/on from in its MyAT&T application, while T-Mobile customers need to remember to activate HD every day, even if they are paying the additional premium.

To go a stage further AT&T should provide some clarity to customers about the video services that are, and/or are not, detectable by Stream Saver, and therefore which sources of video are optimized. We were initially critical that popular mobile video services YouTube, Twitch and social networks were not partners when Binge On was launched, and believe AT&T needs to be transparent here.

Video optimization represents an opportunity for operators to address the strong growth of data traffic on their networks. While both T-Mobile and AT&T have taken the lead here we certainly expect Stream Saver to apply further pressure on Sprint and Verizon to provide tariffs or options to address smartphone owners’ mobile video concerns.


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