Taylor Swift isn’t part of the Super Bowl, but you wouldn’t know it by the crowd which showed up for her concert Saturday night in Houston.
There were almost enough current and former football players to form a team, and even Patriots owner Robert Kraft attended. Celebrities included Vince Vaughn, Jeremy Renner, John Legend and his wife, Chrissy Teigen.
For 90 minutes, Swift performed before a packed house at a pop-up venue called Club Nomadic. She told the audience this would be her only concert in 2017.
But you won’t see Swift’s performance unless you’re a subscriber to DirecTV Now, the new over-the-top service for consumers to stream channels on any device, anyhwere, without a satellite dish. The network, owned by AT&T, has a deal with Swift which includes her own exclusive channel, Taylor Swift Now.
“It’s a multi-year deal, it comes with content, her exclusive library,” said Brad Bentley, Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer for AT&T Entertainment Group.
You read that right. AT&T has an entertainment group, and the Swift concert is a crucial part in rebranding the telecom giant as an entertainment company.
This isn’t your father’s Ma Bell.
“My job is advertising and transforming the brand,” said Bentley, who spoke while nursing a pre-concert beverage on a balcony overlooking the VIP area. Camera crews were everywhere.
“The amount of media we’ve gotten over the last few days is through the roof,” he added. “We almost achieved our goal for the weekend yesterday (Friday).”
DirecTV Now launched only a couple months ago and had 200,000 subscribers by the end of the year, according to AT&T’s earnings report. Subscriptions cost as low as $35 a month (HBO is $5 extra), and if you are an AT&T Wireless customer, streaming doesn’t cut into your data usage allowance.
Reviews have been mixed, with some reviewers saying viewing was glitchy at times.
“It’s just 65, 75 days into existence, so there has been some stability that we’re working through,” said Bentley.
He said it was not uncommon for there to be a few hiccups across different networks, but those should be worked out in the next month or two.
AT&T is determined to acquire and create more content.
“What we did launching DirecTV Now in just 18 months would have never happened prior to an AT&T transaction,” said Bentley.
“Now with the Time Warner transaction coming, we’re planning to become that media company which didn’t exist before.”
It’s not clear when the Time Warner transaction is coming. President Donald Trump has expressed opposition to the deal. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson met with Trump in New York before the inauguration, though the company said the two men did not discuss the merger.
“I don’t think he understood the facts,” said Bentley of the President. “I think when you look at it–the facts of vertical integration…really unlocking value for consumers–I think he will definitely change his mind.”
Bentley called the merger “pro-consumer” and one that doesn’t eliminate competitors.
While the traditional telecom side of AT&T invested $40 million in its network in Houston ahead of the Super Bowl, Bentley wouldn’t say how much the company spent to make a splash with Taylor Swift (DirecTV has held these pre-Super Bowl concerts for a dozen years, but this is the first under the Now brand). Some of the cost of the performance was offset by sponsors, like LeEco, a Chinese handset and TV company buying Vizio and entering the U.S. market.
This will not be the only exclusive concert Taylor Swift performs under her agreement with DirecTV Now, though, again, she told the audience that Saturday night was her only show in 2017.
DirecTV Now also has a Reese Witherspoon channel in the works, and up next it’s taking over the behind-the-scenes making of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition.
“What’s supercharging this is this little Time Warner deal,” Bentley said. “That obviously is going to put us on a whole other level.” That’s assuming the deal is approved.
Regardless, the night before the Super Bowl was won by T-Swift. This even though the name “Super Bowl” could not be attached to the event, as AT&T would not pay the hefty price for an NFL stamp of approval.
Bentley was asked if there was any pushback from the NFL for bringing one of music’s biggest female stars to town less than 24 hours before Lady Gaga takes the stage Sunday at halftime. “No comment,” he replied.