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AT&T's Cord-Cutter Pitch: Broadband, HBO + Amazon, for $40 a Month

Of course there is a lot of fine print. Still, interesting.

Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

It’s still nearly impossible to get HBO, or any other pay-TV channel, without subscribing to a pay-TV package that gives you a bundle of channels, whether you want them or not.

But the people who sell you TV are starting to tinker with the model, at least at the margins. Several pay-TV providers, for instance, sell “skinny” bundles of pay TV that allow you to buy a handful of channels. Now Dish is looking to do something similar with pay TV sold over the Web, and Sony’s Web TV model may be in the same wheelhouse.

Then there’s another category of offers meant to appeal to people who think they want to cut the cord, or don’t want the cord in the first place: Packages that give users broadband, a smattering of basic cable channels and HBO for $50 or less per month.

Now AT&T has made its cheap broadband+TV package even more interesting: It’s throwing a year of Amazon Prime into the mix, which means subscribers get free shipping on stuff they buy from Jeff Bezos — as well as Amazon’s Netflix-like offering of TV shows and movies.

There’s an obvious benefit for both AT&T and Amazon here. And while Amazon’s PR folks say they’ve sold Amazon Prime packaged with other company’s offers before, I haven’t seen much of it, which makes it doubly interesting to me.

Catches? You betcha. The main one is that the offer only lasts for a year, and then subscribers get bumped up to conventional fees. Which means this really isn’t designed for cord-cutters/nevers — it’s designed for cord-cutters/nevers that AT&T and its TV partners hope will eventually join the rest of us, and pay for pay TV.

Which means it’s just like the other skinny packages the TV guys are offering or contemplating: They’d rather have subscribers paying a small fee than none at all, but they’re also telling themselves that those subscribers will “trade up,” as ESPN head John Skipper put it this month when I talked to him at our Code/Media New York event.

But I think this is a higher-stakes bet than the TV guys know or are willing to admit: If they train TV watchers to expect not to pay much at all for conventional TV, they may find lots of takers. And in a world with lots of distribution options and lots of entertainment options, that upsell may be very hard.

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