AT&T: DirecTV merger will streamline multiscreen TV access

DetailsMichelle Clancy | 30 March 2015

AT&T's proposed $49 billion acquisition of DirecTV will help smooth the digital rights licensing process for content, according to top exec Ralph de la Vega, because of its sheer scale.

De La Vega, who started out as the telco's connected device evangelist and who is now CEO of its mobile & business solutions group, said that seamless multiscreen delivery will be one of the side-effects of the deal, which is still pending review by US regulators.

"What customers want is video on their terms on their device, on their schedule," he told FierceCable. "And I think that's a huge challenge for industry to address because of the licensing."

Digital rights are notoriously thorny, often negotiated outside standard contact carriage agreements. Some of that is starting to change, most notably with Disney's recent contract re-ups with various ABC/Disney/ESPN pay-TV distributors, which often have included the mobile and streaming rights as part of the package. But in many cases, what can be watched where and via which app is still largely a patchwork process, especially on the mobile front, with many sports, premium network shows and current-season broadcast hits subject to strict controls or available only via certain laid services.

De La Vega said that AT&T and DirecTV combined would have the kind of negotiating leverage to crack that system open. AT&T is one of the largest national ISPs and wireless companies in the United States — thus supporting vast amounts of streaming video — while DirecTV is the No 1 satellite payer, which already carries considerable clout with content providers.

"Over time we have to get the content providers comfortable that they will be able to protect their properties, get the expected revenue streams," he said, adding: "With the DirecTV deal behind us, I don't know anybody that will be in a better place to make that happen."