Beyoncé – The Most Popular Female Entertainer of Our Generation

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It’s not an overstatement to say that Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter is one of the most popular and bestselling musicians of our generation. She has sold more than 100 million records as a solo artist, and another 60 million records as the lead singer of the mega-popular R&B group Destiny’s Child. As a solo artist, Beyoncé has 6 studio albums that debuted at #1 on the Billboard charts.

And the critical acclaim has been just as great, with Beyoncé winning 22 Grammy Awards and becoming the most-nominated female performer in the history of the Grammys. Not only that, but also Beyoncé is now married to Jay-Z, making them perhaps the preeminent power couple in the entertainment industry. As of May 2017, her total net worth is estimated to be $350 million.

Beyoncé, the early years

So it might be surprising to learn that Beyoncé’s early years were not always so easy. She was born in September 1981 in Houston, Texas to Tina Knowles, a hairdresser and salon owner, and Mathew Knowles, a Xerox salesman. She spent her earliest years singing and performing, showing clear signs of being a musical prodigy. At the age of seven, for example, Beyoncé won a talent show where she was competing with girls twice her age. She also performed in the school choir, attended a music magnet school in the Houston area, and attended a special high school for the performing and visual arts.

But it was a chance encounter when she was only eight that changed her life forever. She was auditioning for a role in an all-girl entertainment group with her childhood friend Kelly Rowland, where she met the other girls who would form the group Girl’s Tyme. That group, as you might have guessed, became the template for the mega-famous Destiny’s Child. They even appeared on the national TV talent show “Star Search” together, but failed to win.

And it was in 1995, when Beyoncé was just 14, that her father took over management of the group. He quit his full-time job as a salesman and committed to making this all-girl group into a singing sensation. By 1996, the group had a contract with Columbia Records, and the rest is history.

Beyoncé becomes the lead signer and creative force of Destiny’s Child

In 1996, Girl’s Tyme officially changed its name to Destiny’s Child, and the group really took off. In 1997, the group released “Killing Time,” their debut song for a major label, which later appeared on the 1997 soundtrack for the movie “Men In Black.” And then came the group’s self-titled debut album and the first major hit, “No, No, No.” The group won some critical acclaim and posted moderate sales numbers for that first album.

The group soon followed up with a huge multi-platinum second album, The Writing’s On the Wall. That smash album contained some of the most popular songs recorded by Destiny’s Child, including “Bills, Bills, Bills”, “Jumpin’ Jumpin’” and “Say My Name.”  That last song – “Say My Name” – turned the band into a Grammy-winning sensation.

But it also led to some heartache, because the band was having a hard time sticking together. The band partially split up, and the media tabloids blamed Beyoncé. When two of the original girls were replaced by Farrah Franklin and Michelle Williams, it was time to really turn up the heat and produce another great album. That led to the group’s most popular single ever, “Independent Women Part I,” which appeared on the soundtrack to the film “Charlie’s Angels” (2000).

But it was clear that the group was starting to split apart – and that was happening at the same time as the group was preparing to release its third studio album. At the same time, Beyoncé was making her name in the movie industry. In 2001, she appeared in the MTV made-for-TV film, “Carmen: A Hip Hopera,” which was loosely based on the famous French opera “Carmen.” In 2001, Destiny’s Child released their third album (Survivor), and it was a huge hit, with songs like “Bootylicious” and “Survivor.” The group released a holiday album at the end of 2001, but that was largely the end of Destiny’s Child for a few years.

Beyoncé, as the real star of the group, went on to appear in movies like “Austin Powers in Goldmember” (where she played Foxxy Cleopatra) and “The Fighting Temptations” (2003), where she starred alongside Cuba Gooding, Jr. It was now time for Beyoncé to really become a solo entertainment star.

Beyoncé Becomes a Mainstream Recording Star

It didn’t take long for Beyoncé to establish herself as one of the most popular singing sensations in the world. If she was known primarily as the lead singer of Destiny’s Child from 1996-2002, it was time for her to show the world what she could offer. Her first solo album, Dangerously in Love, was released in the summer of 2003, after initial solo debuts from two of her group mates, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams. But any guesses as to who sold more album copies?

Dangerously in Love ended up selling 11 million copies worldwide, and songs like “Crazy in Love” (featuring Jay-Z) became instant sensations. In fact, “Crazy in Love” became her first #1 single as a solo recording artist. She won all types of Grammy nominations for her work, and a total of 4 songs from that album cracked the Top 5 on the Billboard charts. The success from that album was incredible – it led to massively popular tours, a Super Bowl performance and, yes, the reunion of Destiny’s Child to create one more studio album, Destiny Fulfilled.

In 2006, on her 25th birthday, Beyoncé released her second solo album, B’Day, which easily became another album to debut at #1 on the Billboard charts. The album had several songs that were huge commercial successes (such as “Irreplaceable” and “Ring the Alarm”), and Beyoncé continued to work on film deals. She starred in the comedy “The Pink Panther” (2006) and the music industry drama “Dreamgirls,” where she played a pop singer based on Diana Ross.

Beyoncé and Jay-Z Become the Power Couple of the Entertainment Industry

In 2008, Beyoncé finally got married to Jay-Z, and that one event helped to catapult her to even more fame. She was a huge crossover star with so many different audiences, and the celebrity tabloids couldn’t get enough of this power couple.

In the period from 2008-2013, Beyoncé would go on to produce three more chart-topping Billboard albums, including I Am… Sasha Fierce (2008), 4 (2011) and Beyoncé (2013). The song that really made Beyoncé an undeniable global star was “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It),” which appeared on her I Am… Sasha Fierce album. Music video parodies of that song became, according to many, one of the first true dance crazes of the Internet era, with versions showing up everywhere you looked online.

It was during this time period that Beyoncé became involved in even more film roles. She appeared in the 2008 music biopic “Cadillac Records” and later in the thriller “Obsessed.”

And, of course, Beyoncé continued to produce some of the most popular music anywhere. On her 2011 studio album 4, for example, she sang “Run the World (Girls),” which became a major anthem for girls everywhere. That album ended up going platinum.

Her fifth studio album, Beyoncé, was a breakthrough in how it was released in 2013. It went straight to the iTunes Store without any marketing or promotion. Word of the new album spread virally across the Internet, quickly turning it into another #1 album,. That album featured one of her most famous songs, “Drunk in Love,” in which Jay-Z again appeared.

By this time, Beyoncé had had her first child (Blue Ivy) with Jay-Z, and her music began to explore new themes, such as motherhood and depression. That only made her more popular. At the 2015 Grammy Awards, Beyoncé was seemingly everywhere – she was nominated for 6 awards, and ended up winning 3 Grammys.

Beyoncé Establishes Herself As an Iconic Star of the Industry

In February 2016, Beyoncé was back with even more musical hits. She released the mega-popular song “Formation” and performed at the Super Bowl. Then, in April 2016, Beyoncé released her sixth studio album, “Lemonade,” which went straight to #1 on the Billboard charts. It was accompanied by the 1-hour HBO film, “Lemonade.”

That album was incredibly successful, with all 12 songs on the album charting simultaneously in the Top 100, making her the first female musical performer ever to achieve that feat. The album became a streaming sensation with over 100 million streams, and it also sold over 1.5 million copies. The album became her most critically acclaimed ever, and it was time for music critics – and not just her adoring fans – to gush over her rare talents.

Beyoncé Prepares For Her Next Era of Stardom

By 2017, it was clear that Beyoncé was the most popular female recording star anywhere in the world. Even though Adele ended up edging out Beyoncé for “Album of the Year” at the Grammys in 2017, even Adele admitted publicly that Lemonade was just “monumental,” incapable of being matched by any other performer.

Going forward, it looks like Beyoncé is already lining up new creative projects for 2017-2018 and beyond. For example, she will headline the Coachella festival in 2018, making her only the second female headliner of the festival ever. And now that Jay-Z and Beyoncé have had twins in June 2008, it will be interesting to see how that influences Beyoncé’s music going forward, as well as her ability to go on world tours.

But the key point is that, just 20 years after forming Destiny’s Child, and just 10 years after launching her own brilliant solo career, Beyoncé is now one of the most recognizable, most popular and most successful female recording stars of all-time.

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Ed Sheeran – British Singer, Songwriter – Biography

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In just a few short years, singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran has emerged as one of the hottest new performers out of the UK.  Still only 26 years old, he has produced three chart-topping albums, toured with Taylor Swift, and become one of the most followed British celebrities on social media. It seems like every new artistic project he takes on becomes instantly successful.

Early life of Ed Sheeran

Edward Sheeran was born in 1991 in Halifax, West Yorkshire and grew up in Framlingham, Suffolk. As a young child, he listened to the records of Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan, dreaming of becoming a big-time performer. With his parents, he went to live concerts of Clapton, Dylan and Paul McCartney, and each time, they helped to form his future musical style. As a teenager, he acted, played guitar, wrote songs, and develop a real appreciation for music.

His first collection of work was Spinning Man, which was released in 2004 when he was just thirteen. He moved to London in 2008, and that’s where he started to become known as an up-and-coming talent. He released another EP, You Need Me, before getting noticed by other acts.

He was also active online, where other artists learned about him and his music. In late 2009, he began attending the Academy of Contemporary Music in Guildford, Surrey. And in early 2010, he released his critically acclaimed EP Loose Change, which featured the debut single that everyone is still talking about, “The A Team.”

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That was 2010, when he was still only 19 years old, but he was determined to really hit it big, so he decided to take his musical act across the Atlantic to Los Angeles. He had no contacts in the U.S. music industry, but was soon discovered by the likes of celebrity Jamie Foxx. He also became a YouTube sensation, and his fans included big-time celebrities like Elton John.

In 2010, Sheeran released two more EPs, Ed Sheeran: Live At the Bedford and Songs I Wrote With Amy. It was clear that he was building a lot of momentum for his career, and that led to the release of yet another independent EP, No. 5 Collaborations Project.

What was so amazing about this EP is that it went straight to #2 on iTunes despite not having any promotion behind it. He also wasn’t yet signed to a label! So you could say that it was his talent alone that made him a singing sensation – the more people who heard him sing, the more people who fell in love with his music. It was clear what was going to happen next – he was going to be signed to a major label, and he would produce a full studio album.

Ed Sheeran enters the pop music mainstream

In April 2011, Ed Sheeran released his song “The A Team” as a digital download in the UK after performing the song on a music TV show. There was so much acclaim around the song that it quickly became the bestselling debut single of the year. It became a Top 10 hit around the world, even in places like New Zealand and Japan.  Sheeran then released three more singles, all of which promptly became Top 10 hits.

Based on all this initial success, it was finally time to release a full studio album – + – with the help of his new record label, Asylum Records. The album + became a bestseller in the UK, and also topped the charts in Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand and the United States.

And that success created even more opportunities for Sheeran – he performed “The A Team” for Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace, and he also performed at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, further raising his profile in the world.

Then came another breakthrough – and that was his collaboration with Taylor Swift, who contacted Sheeran about touring together. From March to September 2013, Sheeran was the opening act for Taylor Swift’s Red Tour. And, along the way, he continued to pick up awards.

His song “The A Team” was nominated for “Song of the Year” at the 2013 Grammy Awards, and at the 2014 Grammy Awards, he was nominated for “Best New Artist.” By this time, he was now headlining major concert venues in New York, such as Madison Square Garden, and it was clear that he was a truly huge musical star in the making.

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Another big career move for Ed Sheeran

However, you can’t become a major music star with only album, and so it was time to start thinking about how to follow-up the phenomenal success of +. In March 2014, Sheeran began releasing new music that would become the basis for his second studio album, x. The first single for that album was “Take It Back,” and the second single was “Sing.” He also released an acoustic ballad, “One.”

Then, in June 2014, Sheeran released the full studio album. As might be expected by now, the album skyrocketed to #1 in both the UK and the US. And Sheeran embarked on another world tour to promote it. Then came the release of “Thinking Out Loud,” which officially became the album’s third single. It also was a spectacular success, and Sheeran became one of the top artists on both iTunes and Spotify.

That led to a lot of critical acclaim. For example, his album x picked up a huge nomination – “Album of the Year” – at the 2015 Grammy Awards.  In addition to picking up awards, Sheeran was also co-hosting big-time shows, like the 2015 Much Music Video Awards in Toronto.

And he even was an opening act for the Rolling Stones in June 2015.  His single “Thinking Out Loud” picked up two Grammy Awards in 2016, and his album x was officially the second-bestselling album of 2015, trailing only 25 by Adele.

A timeout from music and then a big return for Ed Sheeran

With all of that public success, and plenty of performing with some of the biggest musical acts in the world, it was time for Ed Sheeran to take a timeout from music and plan his next steps. That turned into a year-long hiatus from music.

But then something very amazing happened in December 2016 – Sheeran began leaking hints and clues about his new album. In January 2017, it was time to release the first new music from his third studio album, which was to be named ¸(“divide”).

The first two songs were “Shape of You” and “Castle on the Hill” – and both were complete blockbuster smashes. In fact, “Shape of You” debuted at #1 and “Castle on the Hill” debuted at #2 –the first time that had happened in UK history. And it wasn’t just in the UK where Sheeran’s music was causing waves – “Shape of You” became a huge hit internationally.

In the U.S., “Shape of You” went straight to #1, while “Castle on the Hill” topped out at #6. He became the first-ever artist in the U.S. to have two songs debut at the same time in the Top 10.  Sheeran now plans to tour Europe, South America and North America to support this third studio album.

More superstardom ahead for Ed Sheeran

So what’s next for this talented UK musician? In addition to being a phenomenally successful and popular singer-songwriter, it now looks like Sheeran is becoming a big-time record producer. He launched his own label, Gingerbread Man Records, in August 2015. Since then, the label has launched two up-and-coming stars, Jamie Lawson and Foy Vance.

And Sheeran is also becoming more and more involved in charitable ventures. He’s particularly involved with philanthropies and charities in his home county of Suffolk in the UK. He has also performed concerts in support of victims of Africa’s deadly Ebola virus.

And don’t forget about Sheeran’s potential future career in acting. He’s already appeared in a few soap operas – in New Zealand, the U.S. and Australia. And, most interestingly, he’s now preparing for a role in a medieval-themed drama (“The Bastard Executioner”) appearing on FX. According to Sheeran, this was a purposeful attempt to play against type – he didn’t want to be someone who just appeared in soap operas or romantic comedies.

In terms of his personal life, it appears that Sheeran may be getting married soon. In May 2017, details started to emerge about his engagement with Cherry Seaborn. (In hindsight, that might be why Sheeran decided to take a year off from music!)

What’s clear now is that Ed Sheeran is truly one of the music industry’s brightest stars. At the age of 26, it seems like he is on top of the world. Every new single he releases goes straight to #1, and he is touring and performing with some of the biggest names.

How many other people have performed with Elton John, the Rolling Stones and Taylor Swift in a 24-month period? Going forward, the musical world is waiting expectantly for the release of new music from Sheeran’s third studio album. It’s clear that this album ¸ going to be a huge smash hit, just like + and x.

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The Latest Improvements From DIRECTV Now

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When AT&T launched DIRECTV Now back in November 2016, it had absolutely no idea of how popular the service was going to be. Within the first month, nearly 200,000 subscribers signed up for the service, thanks in part to some exceptionally strong promotional pricing for the service (just $35 per month). But was this a case of expanding too fast, too soon?

As you might imagine, nearly 200,000 brand new subscribers signing up at once put a lot of strain on the service – and that led to a much-publicized outcry about “freezing” and “buffering” problems with the streaming TV service. In layman’s terms, DIRECTV didn’t work as advertised, and it was actually kind of frustrating for users. Since the content was being streamed over the Internet, it meant that the service was bound to be a little bit buggy if there were bandwidth issues. But in the six months since launch, DIRECTV has made a number of notable improvements.

#1: Fixing all the freezing and buffering issues

OK, first things first. AT&T became very concerned about the public outcry over poor or spotty service and decided to do something about it. It’s bad enough when a service doesn’t work as planned – but it’s made doubly worse when that bad service literally becomes a topic of national debate. In some cases, customers were taking their issues to media outlets, or threatening all kinds of actions when AT&T had trouble with refunds.

So AT&T began to phase out all of its promotions and advertising until it had a handle on all the issues. That’s why you’ve probably seen the Bloomberg stories about “flat growth” at DIRECTV Now since March 2017 – well, it was really a case of AT&T not wanting to put even more strain on the system until it had all the technical issues ironed out. And AT&T was very direct about all this, with its executives saying that you wouldn’t be seeing a rollout of a national advertising campaign until all the problems had been fixed.

And guess what happened in June 2017? That’s right, the first-ever DIRECTV Now ad campaign featuring Mark Wahlberg went live. If you haven’t seen the ad on TV by now, you can watch the “All Our Rooms” ad with Mark Wahlberg on YouTube. So you can take the appearance of this new ad in June as a positive sign – it means that AT&T has fixed all the technical issues with DIRECTV Now and is ready to move on.

#2: Coming up with an unbelievable $10 per month pricing offer

Running a national advertising campaign is one way to convince people to sign up for your service. But do you know what’s even more effective? Yes, that’s right, a completely amazing pricing offer! On June 2, AT&T made DIRECTV Now a $10 add-on to the $60 Unlimited Choice plan for wireless. In other words, if you were paying $60 a month for wireless, you could get 60 channels from the DIRECTV Now “Live a Little” service for just $10 more.

At those prices, who wouldn’t want to sign up for DIRECTV Now? One major tech blog said that AT&T was “basically giving away” TV programming to its wireless customers. And the “Live a Little” bundle is actually pretty extensive, covering 60 channels in all. And those channels include the major networks (ABC, NBC, Fox) in addition to some of the very best TV networks, like CNN and CNBC. In other words, this is not a classic “skinny bundle” that the other live streaming TV competitors try to get away with – it’s actually very robust and includes all the very best TV networks.

What’s clever about the $10 pricing is that AT&T is actually still charging customers $35 a month for the service, but then is adding in a $25 “video credit.” So, $35 – $25 = $10. This is because the $10 is just promotional pricing – it’s not going to be the permanent price of the live, streaming service.

#3: Adding in support for Roku

DIRECTV Now is like all the other live streaming TV services in that you need some kind of set-top box to get content for your TV. Not a traditional cable TV box, of course, but a set-top box or similar device from the likes of Amazon (Amazon Fire TV), Google (Chromecast) or Apple (Apple TV). The one service that wasn’t included at launch was Roku.

You can see how that was a major oversight, given the popularity of Roku with so many cord-cutters. So, on May 30, AT&T made DIRECTV available for Roku users. Moreover, it came with a 1-month free trial on Roku. That gave Roku users a very strong incentive to try out the new and improved DIRECTV Now service.
Thus, prior to May 30, a Roku user would have seen icons for the likes of Netflix and Hulu on their screen – but none for DIRECTV Now. That has all changed now – you’ll now see the familiar DIRECTV Now logo anytime you use your Roku device.

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#4: Finalizing plans for a cloud DVR

Every live streaming TV service seems to have a No. 1 “most requested item” on the wish list of customers. (In the case of Sling TV, it was a grid format TV guide to see what’s on at any time). Well, in the case of DIRECTV Now, that No. 1 “most requested item” was a cloud DVR.

Think about it – if you are a traditional cable or satellite TV customer, you probably have a box-like DVR next to your TV that’s capable of recording and playing back digital content. Well, there’s no set-top box for live, streaming TV. And you don’t get a DVR with your Apple TV! So that meant fans and customers who signed up for DIRECTV Now were facing a major issue: How do I record digital content without a physical DVR?

The answer to that question, of course, is a cloud DVR. When you use Hulu Live or Playstation Vue, for example, you get a cloud DVR. So, just to keep up with other live streaming TV rivals, DIRECTV Now had to come up with a cloud DVR. It just makes sense, right? So be on the lookout for a DIRECTV Now cloud DVR soon.

#5: Coming up with new subscription plans for customers

When DIRECTV Now launched to so much fanfare back in November 2016, one of the key selling points was the ability to get 100 channels for just $35 per month. If you compared that to what competitors like Sling TV and Playstation Vue were offering, it just blew away anyone else. Really, 100 channels for just $35?

So it was almost inevitable that DIRECTV Now started to come up with new subscription plans for customers. The idea is to provide a lot of value, but not at a price that’s just plain ridiculous. So DIRECTV Now executives had a choice – either jack up the price of the basic package (a decision that was almost certain to cause another outcry from critics), or reduce the number of channels available in the basic package.

DIRECTV Now made the right choice. You now get 60 channels for $35 a month as part of the basic “Live a Little” package. And, to keep getting 100 channels, you now need to pay $60 a month. Both prices are extremely fair, and emblematic of how AT&T is really trying to come up with innovative types of subscription plans for customers.

What’s next for DIRECTV Now?

So, let’s recap all the latest improvements from DIRECTV Now. First and foremost, DIRECTV Now has largely addressed all the freezing and buffering issues that plagued the service when it was first offered. Secondly, DIRECTV Now came up with an unbelievable pricing promotion – just $10 a month! – for customers who sign up for AT&T wireless service.

Thirdly, DIRECTV Now expanded its platform support to include Roku, one of the very most important platforms for cord-cutters. Fourthly, the company came up with a plan to offer cloud DVR service. And, fifthly, the company continues to develop new plans and bundles to appeal to customers.

Based on all that, it’s quite possible that DIRECTV Now is going to start seeing some robust growth in its subscribers. According to the latest data from Bloomberg, DIRECTV Now peaked at 328,000 subscribers in January 2017. It then lost 3,000 subscribers in February. And, in March, subscriber growth was flat. That made sense, of course – March was the last month that AT&T was aggressively offering promotions (like a free Apple TV with a subscription).

So we’re about to see what’s going to happen when all of these latest improvements really start to kick in. It’s quite likely that, based on the acclaim for the new ads starting to run on TV, we’re going to see growth picking up in June and continuing throughout the summer. Based on that, it’s possible to say that AT&T learned its lesson and is now on a really exciting trajectory for future growth with its DIRECTV Now service.

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Meet Brad Pitt – American Movie Celebrity

Without any doubt, Brad Pitt is one of the most famous movie celebrities in the world. For 25 years, he has been acting in some of the popular films ever produced by Hollywood. And, on top of that, his celebrity romances with the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie have kept him on the pages of celebrity tabloids on a non-stop basis for nearly two decades.

But life did not start out with Hollywood glamour. Pitt was born in Oklahoma and grew up in Missouri, where he attended high school. He later enrolled at the University of Missouri, where he made up his mind to get involved with the world of film in the mid-1980s. Just two weeks before graduation in 1986, he moved to Los Angeles, determined to get involved in TV and movies.

Early work as a Hollywood actor

From 1987 to 1992, Brad Pitt’s career began to take shape. His first-ever roles in films (“No Way Out, No Man’s Land” and “Less Than Zero”) were actually uncredited. He made guest appearances on TV sitcoms and soap operas, but nothing really hinted at the fame and fortune ahead of him. Perhaps Pitt’s most critically acclaimed performance during that time was his role in the 1990 NBC made-for-TV movie, “Too Young To Die?”, in which he played alongside Juliette Lewis.

Pitt’s breakout performance came in the 1991 cult film “Thelma & Louise.” In this film by Ridley Scott, Pitt played a small-time criminal who had a much talked about love scene with Thelma (played by Geena Davis). Many reviewers now credit that performance with people talking widely about Pitt as a sex symbol.

Then, in 1992, Pitt worked with Robert Redford on “A River Runs Through It,” and received almost universal acclaim for his performance. Many now began to see Pitt as an actor capable of a much larger range of roles. For that, Pitt has always given credit to Robert Redford.

Emergence as a true Hollywood star

In 1994, Pitt had another breakout, career-defining performance. He starred as the vampire Louis de Pointe du Lac in the cult horror film “Interview with the Vampire.” The movie, based on the bestselling book by Anne Rice, featured an ensemble cast of some of the biggest Hollywood names – including Tom Cruise, Kirsten Dunst and Antonio Banderas. For his part in the movie, Pitt picked up two MTV Movie Awards in 1995.

The following year, Pitt picked up new roles that would begin to define him as one of the most important emerging Hollywood superstars. He had an important performance in the movie “Seven,” playing a detective on the search of a serial killer. That movie also featured Morgan Freeman and Gwyneth Paltrow, with whom he would later become romantically involved.

But it was his performance in the science fiction movie “12 Monkeys” that really made him into a superstar. He won a Golden Globe award and also picked up his first-ever Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Other Oscar-worthy roles soon followed, such as a leading role in the fantasy romance movie “Meet Joe Black.”

Solidifying his role as an iconic actor

The period from 1999-2003 helped to solidify Brad Pitt as one of the most sought-after actors in Hollywood. The role that made him into a real star was his portrayal of the anarchist Tyler Durden in “Fight Club” (1999). From there, he began to star side-by-side with some of the biggest names in Hollywood. For example, in 2001, Pitt played alongside Julia Roberts in “The Mexican.” He also co-starred with Robert Redford in “Spy Game.”

Then came “Ocean’s Eleven,” a blockbuster crime heist movie starring George Clooney, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia and Julia Roberts. Few could doubt that Pitt was now part of the Hollywood elite. After that, he had a cameo role in George Clooney’s first-ever movie, “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” and became a fixture in the celebrity tabloids.

Superstar A-lister

From 2004 on, Pitt enjoyed a golden age of blockbuster Hollywood film roles. It was no longer the case that he was playing a supporting role or appearing as part of a larger ensemble cast. It was now the case that he could command top billing as a real A-list actor. For example, he appeared as Achilles in the blockbuster film “Troy” in 2004.

In 2005, Pitt made a movie that came to define the way the celebrity tabloids talked about him and his personal life. That movie, of course, was “Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” in which Pitt co-starred with Angelina Jolie. At the time, Pitt was undergoing a divorce with Jennifer Aniston, and rumors persisted that Pitt’s on-stage romance with Angelina Jolie was at least part of the reason.

From 2005 to 2010 came a string of critically-acclaimed and well-received movies, including “Babel” (2006), for which Pitt picked up a Golden Globe Best Supporting Actor nomination. Pitt’s production company, Plan B Entertainment, also produced its first film, “The Departed” in 2006. It was clear now that Brad Pitt’s role in Hollywood had significantly expanded to include not just actor but also producer.

During that time period, Pitt also starred in a number of big-name movies every year. In 2007, it was “The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford.” In 2008, it was “Burn After Reading.” In 2009, it was “Inglorious Basterds.” Then came even more movies and even more awards, including a star turn in both “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and “Moneyball.”

After 2010, Pitt starred in the kinds of blockbuster movies that pulled in some truly staggering box office numbers. These included “World War Z” and “12 Years a Slave” in 2013 and “Fury” in 2014 and then “The Big Short” (2015) and “Allied” (2016). In 2017, Brad Pitt starred in “War Machine,” a Netflix original movie.

Future stardom ahead

The next big movie to feature Brad Pitt could be a sequel to “World War Z” – the movie had been tentatively planned to have a smash debut in summer 2017, but now it looks like plans have been pushed back to late 2017 or early 2018. Meanwhile, his production company Plan B Entertainment continues to work on new TV and film projects.

And don’t forget that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are still very much the epitome of the superstar Hollywood couple. Although the two officially divorced at the end of 2016, their names continue to appear on the front pages of newspapers and tabloid everywhere.

Looking back on Pitt’s work on the big screen, it’s almost hard to believe that it has been more than 25 years since his first breakout role in “Thelma & Louise.” Since that time, Pitt has worked with some of the leading names in Hollywood, and has been romantically linked with several of the most beautiful women ever to appear in TV or film. He truly is a one-of-a-kind Hollywood A-list original.

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Top 6 Developments in the Internet of Things to Expect In the Next Year

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By any standard, the Internet of Things is growing at a truly exponential rate – and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. According to some estimates, there are now more than 8.4 billion objects that are part of the Internet of Things. In other words, there are now more objects than humans connected to the Internet right now.

And, according to the research firm IDC, we’re now on pace to see even more dramatic growth in the Internet of Things (now commonly referred to as just IoT) in 2017 and beyond. IDC predicts that IoT spending will grow by 16.7% in 2017, to a figure of $800 billion. By 2021, total global spending on the Internet of Things could reach $1.4 trillion. So where exactly is all that spending headed?

If you think that the “Internet of Things” only refers to consumer technology and new entertainment options, you could be missing the bigger picture. Instead, as IDC points out, the biggest spending is in the area of manufacturing and freight monitoring. The second biggest area of spending is in smart buildings and smart grids. And the third biggest spending involves the smart home. And after that comes all the spending on the Internet of Things gadgets (like Internet-connected pillows and Internet-connected mirrors) that typically show up at trade shows like the CES in Las Vegas.

With that in mind, here’s a closer look at 6 top developments to watch out for in the Internet of Things over the next 12 months.

#1: Manufacturing and production asset management

The biggest spending on the Internet of Things is going to happen in manufacturing and production asset management. Imagine entire factories hooked up to the Internet, and every single pallet shipped in the world being tracked via the Internet. That would create some truly unique efficiencies in the way products are manufactured and shipped. It would enable just-in-time delivery anywhere in the world.

Here’s one way to think about this development: just think of the innovation that FedEx created when it made packages fully trackable anytime you ship in the world. For many younger Americans, that might seem to be a “given” – the ability to track in real-time where your package is in the world. But that’s really only a fairly new innovation. In the same way, you will soon be able to track any part, any asset or any manufacturing input in real-time. Farmers and ranchers are even connecting their livestock and cows to the Internet. The world is already massively interconnected by trade, and the Internet of Things is only going to push that trend forward.

#2: Smart grids

According to IDC, the Internet of Things is going to change the way energy is generated, distributed, consumed and stored. When it comes to energy generation, it is going to enable the optimization of uptime and output. The days of centralized energy generation are coming to an end, and all energy generation is going to be pushed to the “edges.”

In terms of distribution and usage, it will be possible to control not just a specific variable but also the total energy budget for the month. And when it comes to energy storage, this is going to lead to the creation of “smart grids” capable of storing power from alternative energy sources (like wind and solar energy) and then distributing it as needed to any part of the grid.

#3: Smart homes

For most average Americans, the way they will experience the Internet of Things in 2017 is via the smart home. The classic example is the “smart thermostat” like the Nest capable of controlling the temperature of a home. But there are plenty more innovations planned for the next 12 months, For example, at CES 2017 in Las Vegas, innovations included Internet-connected smoke detectors and Internet-connected blinds (MySmartBlinds). Imagine being able to control the opening and closing of the blinds on your windows to control for variables such as temperature and light!

And, within the home itself, we are starting to see more and more products that hint at the future of home furniture and interior furnishings. Everything, it seems, is soon going to be connected to the Internet. One example is the $259 Hi Mirror, a smart beauty mirror that you can hang in the hallway or in your bathroom. When you look into the mirror, a computer and camera connected to the Internet begins to analyze your face for wrinkles, blemishes, dark spots and pores. It can then analyze the data and give you a customized skin care regimen to fix any problems.

Or consider an innovation like the Smart Table. When you first look at it, it appears to be an ordinary wooden table. But it’s actually connected to the Internet, and enables activities like video calling and checking emails. Instead of making a Skype call from your phone, imagine making a new type of video call from your kitchen table!

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#4: Consumer gadgets

And, as might be expected, continue to look for new consumer gadgets that push the boundary on what we can expect from the Internet of Things. For example, at CES 2017, there were several innovations displayed that hint at just how ubiquitous the Internet of Things is becoming. There was the $129 Kolibree Ara Smart Toothbrush, capable of giving you feedback on your brushing techniques.

And there was the June Smart Oven, which literally uses the Internet to help you make dinner. Say, for example, you know that you are going to be home from work in 45 minutes and would like to have a nice, tasty dinner waiting for you when you arrive. Well, you could use your iPhone or iPad to control and program your oven, and then use that same digital device to watch a live videostream of your meal being prepared. And it could all be yours for the low, low price of $1495.

And, of course, personal health and fitness trackers continue to be popular. As they are connected to the Internet, they could make it possible for doctors to monitor your health in real-time, from any location in the world. Not only can you can check how many steps you’ve taken in a day, you’ll see all the key variables of your body’s health and learn how to optimize them.

#5: New security innovations

Of course, the downside of having billions of objects connected to the Internet of Things are the potential security and safety vulnerabilities. In October 2016, for example, there was a famous “botnet” attack, in which 10 million printers, DVRs, cable set-top boxes, webcams and baby monitors combined forces to crash the website of a single company responsible for Internet site performance. That, in turn, led to companies like Twitter, Amazon, PayPal, Spotify, Netflix and HBO temporarily being kicked off the Internet.

In a worst-case scenario, of course, an Internet of Things vulnerability could lead to more than just Netflix being unavailable for a few hours. Since we’ve already seen that the Internet of Things is leading to the creation of smart grids, it could be the case that a security glitch could knock down a city’s power grid. In one scenario outlined by security experts, a city’s traffic lights could be easily turned off.

And just think of what could happen if an Internet-powered medical device (like a pacemaker) is somehow made vulnerable – it could lead to some very tragic consequences. Thus, look for continued developments related to making the Internet of Things even safer in 2017.

#6: Consumer entertainment

Of course, the really fun area for the Internet of Things in 2017-2018 involves consumer entertainment. Internet-connected TVs and cloud DVRs are just the beginning, as consumer gadget makers figure out new ways to create revolutionary new experiences that combine digital entertainment programming with the Internet.

For example, consider what’s happening now with voice-activated assistants, such as Amazon Echo or Google Home. It’s now possible to give voice commands to an Internet-connected object in your home. With Amazon, for example, you can now order a pizza just by talking to your Amazon Echo. Or, you can control the music in your living room with the Echo. You can completely control your home entertainment experience just with your voice.

Conclusions

It’s clear that there are a lot of exciting developments ahead for the Internet of Things. While there are a lot of frivolous innovations being created – such as Internet-connected hairbrushes and Internet-connected silverware – there is actually a lot of innovation happening in areas like smart health and the smart home that impact everyone and every American household.

And, taking a bigger picture view of how the Internet has the potential to change the way businesses and cities are organized, it’s clear that the Internet of Things is no longer just a buzzword used by the techno elite. It’s part of the daily fabric of everyday life. Many of the innovations taking place in the Internet of Things – such as new smart grids, smart buildings, and smart manufacturing chains – may be largely invisible to the eye, but they are everywhere around you. Now that nearly 10 billion objects are connected to the Internet, it’s time to figure out how to use them most effectively.

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How DIRECTV Still Thrives in the Streaming Era

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This may be the golden era for streaming content. Just think of all the great companies that now stream endless movies and shows to millions of customers. Netflix, Amazon and Hulu are top of mind, of course, but there are also all the live TV streaming players as well, such as Sling TV. So how is it possible that DIRECTV, a satellite TV provider, has managed to thrive in the streaming era?

#1: Satellite customers are different

According to the most recent estimates, DIRECTV had 21 million subscribers as of Q1 2017. At a time when the mainstream media is filled with stories about “cord-cutters,” that number seems remarkable. From the tone and tenor of the media stories, you would have thought that DIRECTV was down to a few thousand subscribers in a few scattered geographic locations!

But the reason DIRECTV continues to thrive is because there’s a very big difference between cable customers and satellite customers. The reality is that the entire country is not served by cable, and in some geographic regions, the only choice is satellite. If you live in a mountainous region, or if you live in a very isolated rural region, your only real choice may be satellite. And that’s why DIRECTV has spent so much time and effort making sure that it satellite coverage is simply unbeatable. It means delivering a very clear, very crisp image no matter where you are located in the United States.

Moreover, most people think of satellite TV as a consumer product. It is, of course. But there is also a very important “DIRECTV for business” component of the business. Think about bars, restaurants, hotels, dormitories or hospitals – they also get TV service. And for many of them, DIRECTV is the provider of choice. Part of that has to do with the choice of content. Think about hanging out at a sports bar – there are games on from every part of the country, and the only way you’re going to get that kind of coverage is via satellite. Hotels, too, need to cater to visitors coming from all over the country.

#2: Top-rated customer service

There are a lot of jokes about “the cable guy,” but do you ever hear jokes about “the satellite guy”? No, not at all, and that’s because satellite TV providers like DIRECTV are laser-focused on providing the best possible customer service. Check out the home page of DIRECTV – it’s filled with “#1 in customer service” awards.

And that makes sense, right? DIRECTV knows that you’ve got to install a satellite dish to get reception, and they also know that satellite coverage may not always be as reliable as cable coverage (especially in densely populated urban areas), so they really have to be very focused on customer service. So, many people love DIRECTV for its great customer service – they can’t imagine switching to someone else.

#3: Exclusive programming content

In the media and the entertainment world, there is nothing more important than “the exclusive.” It’s the reason why some pop culture magazines are willing to pay millions of dollars to get “exclusive photos” of a celebrity. It’s the reason why TV news programs tout “exclusive interviews.” It’s the reason why music services tout that some albums are “available exclusively” on their service.

And guess what? DIRECTV also has plenty of “exclusives” that makes it such a favorite with customers. One of those exclusives is NFL Sunday Ticket. If you’re a serious NFL football fan, you might sign up for DIRECTV solely to get access to NFL Sunday Ticket. That’s because DIRECTV has exclusive rights to NFL Sunday Ticket. If you don’t get DIRECTV, you don’t get NFL Sunday Ticket. So the more exclusives that DIRECTV is able to offer, the stronger its value proposition becomes.

#4: Synergistic mergers

One of the biggest buzzwords in the world of Wall Street investment banking is “synergies.” Bankers will convince two companies to merge, promising all kinds of synergies that will result from the deal. The company will get leaner and meaner, and will realize all kinds of cost efficiencies. In most cases, those “synergies” are just a buzzword. But in the case of DIRECTV, recent mergers really have led to a number of important synergies.

The first example is the July 2015 merger & acquisition deal, in which AT&T paid $48.5 billion for DIRECTV. This was a huge deal for so many reasons. First and foremost, it gave DIRECTV access to some very deep pockets. It meant that AT&T could promote DIRECTV any time it was promoting its other services. And it could give customers very strong incentives to sign up for DIRECTV.

The second example is the pending AT&T–Time Warner deal, in which AT&T will acquire Time Warner for $80 billion. At first glance, this wouldn’t seem to affect DIRECTV, right? Well, think of all the content at Time Warner. Well, that’s a lot of content that is now going to be made available to DIRECTV in some form. And remember what we said about “exclusives”? One of the most important Time Warner properties is HBO, and the ability to make exclusive offers based around HBO could become very powerful indeed for DIRECTV.

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#5: New innovations like 4K

In November 2014, DIRECTV became the first-ever company to offer 4K ultra-high definition content. That’s a great example of how DIRECTV has really stayed out in front when it comes to innovation. Delivering a remarkable 4K picture is something that it is going to become increasingly important as TV viewers embrace 4K TVs. Of course, right now, the average 4K TV is still wildly too expensive. Thus, there hasn’t been a lot of demand for 4K programming. But that day is coming soon, and DIRECTV is ready to become a leader when it does.

Also, here’s another example of great innovation from DIRECTV: the company partnered with Boeing and its Connexion service to offer in-flight TV and Internet for air travelers. This is because DIRECTV has all those satellites in geosynchronous orbit around the Earth – that makes it much easier to deliver a strong signal to airplanes that are flying 30,000 feet above the Earth’s surface!

#6: Creation of a new streaming competitor

Perhaps the best reason why DIRECTV continues to thrive in the streaming era is because it has been working on a streaming competitor of its own, known as DIRECTV Now.

For AT&T, the decision to release DIRECTV Now in November 2016 was a difficult one. First of all, there was the risk that DIRECTV Now would “cannibalize” DIRECTV. In other words, there might be a flood of new customers who embrace DIRECTV Now, but all of them would be coming from DIRECTV! And, even worse, the customers for DIRECTV Now would be paying less than the customers for DIRECTV. So AT&T had to take very careful steps not to cannibalize its existing service.

But now it looks like DIRECTV Now and DIRECTV are going to peacefully co-exist. One key, says AT&T, is that DIRECTV Now is going to be positioned differently than DIRECTV. According to executives, DIRECTV Now is going to poach customers away from the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime Now, not from DIRECTV.

#7: Inertia

Finally, it’s important to mention one of the most important forces at work in the world of business, and that’s inertia. In short, unless there is a very compelling reason to switch, most customers won’t. Even if they don’t use a product, or are tired of using a product, they won’t switch. That’s why so many companies try to convince you to sign up for auto-pay paperless monthly billing. They may talk about saving the environment by getting rid of paper, but that’s just a smoke screen. The real reason is because it is much more likely that you will quit if you’re getting an annoying bill in the mail. It’s just human psychology. But if you are being billed online, and the funds are automatically being deducted from your bank account, it’s almost impossible to quit. You may even forget you’re being billed.

So, when the first streaming competitors arrived, there was a very real risk that they were new and interesting enough that customers might overcome their inertia and switch. But now guess what? The gap is narrowing between streaming and satellite. In many cases, the services are starting to look completely identical. Some customers are starting to regret the loss of so many TV stations, and are putting an end to all that “cord-cutting” nonsense.

Conclusions

Ultimately, DIRECTV is still thriving in the streaming era because it offers a best-in-class product at a reasonable price to very loyal customers. And it continues to innovate with new service offerings  – such as an amazing new Genie HD DVR system – that are clearly better than anything else in the marketplace.

At the end of the day, TV viewers like the ability to watch hundreds of “live” stations. They are tired of making sense of confusing “skinny bundles.” They are tired of trying to figure out the difference between “Orange” and “Blue.” They are tired of signing up for multiple services (Netflix + Hulu + Sling TV) just to recreate what they already had with satellite TV. They are tired of reading all the fine print of what networks are available in which region. What they want is what DIRECTV offers – a comprehensive selection of live TV programming, combined with great on-demand offerings, all at a reasonable price.

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Why AT&T Won’t Regret Buying DIRECTV

Back in July 2015, AT&T completed its nearly $50 billion mega-acquisition of DIRECTV. It’s now been almost exactly two years since the deal was finalized, meaning it’s now possible to ascertain the real effect of the acquisition. Contrary to all the initial concerns about the deal – many of which focused on the potential anti-competitive effects – it now looks like the deal is really going to pay off for AT&T.

The worlds of entertainment, streaming, wireless and broadband Internet are starting to merge and consolidate in unimagined ways, and it looks like the real winners will be those mega-companies with both the reach and scale to survive in a hyper-competitive industry.

And when it comes to mammoth entertainment and technology giants, they don’t come much bigger than the combined AT&T and DIRECTV. The combined company now has a national footprint that reaches an estimated 26 million Americans. Moreover, the company reaches another 19 million customers in Latin America. The same company is now a behemoth that offers wireless, voice, data and TV – and that combination is going to make the DIRECTV a real winner. Here are a few reasons why…

Reason #1: AT&T is going to become the streaming TV leader

If there’s one core reason why AT&T was willing to pay such a hefty price tag for DIRECTV, it was to get access to DIRECTV’s 20 million customers nationwide. At the time of the merger, DIRECTV was the second-largest pay TV provider in the country and by far the largest satellite TV company in the country.

However, AT&T has a much bigger goal in mind than simply winning in the pay TV category – the company also wants to become the undisputed leader in streaming TV content, and now it looks like that goal is very much within reach.

The main way that AT&T plans to capture this market for streaming (not linear) TV programming is by continuing to market the DIRECTV Now offering, which launched with much fanfare at the end of 2016. At the time, DIRECTV came with promotional pricing of just $35 a month. The rumors and expectations were that DIRECTV would have to raise its pricing in 2017 to $40, $45 or $50 per month in order to become profitable. At that higher price point, it wouldn’t be nearly as competitive, especially with streaming TV entrants like Hulu stepping up their game.

But guess what? It’s now possible to get DIRECTV now for just $10 a month if you’re an AT&T wireless customer. The company is running a special promotion where you can stream live TV for just $10 a month if you have the Unlimited Choice plan. At $10 a month, DIRECTV Now would be the same price as Netflix ($9.99) and cheaper than just about any other streaming TV competitor.

Obviously, wireless is going to be the key to winning over the streaming TV customer, and that leads to the second major reason why AT&T isn’t going to regret buying DIRECTV.

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Reason #2: AT&T is going to grow its overall customer base

You can already start to see all the innovative offerings coming out of AT&T these days, and that can only mean one thing: AT&T is going to be able to win over new customers who are attracted by all the new bundling options.

Remember the days of the “Triple Play” for cable companies, in which they encouraged you to bundle Internet, TV and Voice? Well, that’s about to become the Quadruple Play, as they encourage you to bundle Internet, wireless, TV and data. The only thing is – AT&T isn’t going to make it so obvious that they’re bundling all this together. Customers are smart, and they won’t want to get locked in to a massive bundle if they don’t have to.

But the offers could just be so incredibly attractive that they won’t have any choice but to sign up as an AT&T customer. For example, consider HBO. That’s the one cable network property that customers HAVE to have. And AT&T is going to make it very easy to get it. Just check out the current AT&T website – one of their featured deals is the ability to get free HBO if you’re an AT&T customer. Yes, that’s free as in $0 per month.

If you had a choice between, say, Verizon and AT&T, which one would you pick? You’d obviously pick AT&T because you’d get free HBO bundled in. So you’d willingly cut your ties with Verizon (or Sprint or T-Mobile) and sign up for A&T.

What AT&T has recognized is that customers no longer differentiate between how they get content – all they care is that they get the right content at the right time. Thus, for an AT&T customer, it doesn’t matter if HBO is delivered over cable, satellite, wireless or high-speed internet – if they’re getting HBO, then they’re happy.

Reason #3: AT&T is going to boost its revenue per customer

And with so many customers signing up for AT&T service, that’s going to lead to another key competitive effect, and that’s the ability to boost its revenue per customer. In business jargon, it’s called the “up-sell.” It means migrating a customer to a higher price point or a higher overall bill. For a company, that’s a very easy way to grow the bottom line.

The way AT&T is going to up-sell its customers is the same way that McDonald’s up-sells its customers. When you check out at McDonald’s (or any other fast food outlet), the person at the cashier always asks a question like, “Would you like fries with that?” Sometimes they’ll ask, “Would you like to super-size that drink for just $0.25 more?” Or sometimes they’ll just rudely ask, “Is that all???” But the reason is always the same – to get the customer to pay a little more for a meal than they were originally intending to spend.
And that’s exactly what’s going to happen with AT&T. All of a sudden, DIRECTV is going to be the magic add-on that inflates the bill of every customer. An AT&T customer may be happily paying $100 or $150 a month for wireless service, and now comes a chance to “stream live TV for just $10 more per month.” See? It’s just like McDonald’s trying to up-sell you with a box of fries!

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Reason #4: AT&T is going to own the mobile video space

Right now, the #1 major trend in entertainment is the exponential growth in mobile video. Think about the type of content that you consume on your phone or tablet: chances are, it’s video. According to most estimates, we’ve already long reached a tipping point where video is the primary form of content on the Internet. By some estimates, Netflix accounts for the majority of that video content. But there’s also video content from the likes of YouTube. And, of course, Facebook is making a major push into video content.

So you can see AT&T’s major quandary here – the company has seen that its AT&T wireless offering is only as good as the type of mobile video that it can stream. And, again, that’s where DIRECTV comes into the picture. Literally.

But in this case, it’s not about distribution – it’s about content. Think of all the content deals that DIRECTV has signed with the major cable networks. DIRECTV needs all that content for its satellite TV offering, of course. But now AT&T also has access to all that content, in at least some form. And that’s preparing AT&T to become a mobile video behemoth.

Remember – AT&T has nearly 2,300 retail stores across the nation, and those become a powerful way to highlight the content options available at the company. Netflix may be a video giant, but it doesn’t have a brick-and-mortar presence. And, more importantly, Netflix is dependent on the major broadband providers. AT&T, in contrast, has a lot of power over both content and distribution.

TV Everywhere and Net Neutrality

Going forward, there are going to be several buzzwords that are going to define the future success of the AT&T and DIRECTV deal. One of them is “TV Everywhere,” or the concept that TV content should be available on any device across a wide range of platforms: wireless, satellite and cable broadband. As we’ve seen above, AT&T already has a very good TV Everywhere strategy in place.

The other big, important buzzword is “Net Neutrality.” As a huge behemoth with interests in wireless, satellite and cable, AT&T is going to come under a lot of scrutiny. But for now, it looks like AT&T is firmly on board with net neutrality. That means it won’t try to block or slow down the traffic of competitors, such as Netflix or Hulu.

But now it looks like that concern about net neutrality is a thing of the past. AT&T continues to roll out new offerings that make sense for the customer. And the combined AT&T/DIRECTV is at the forefront of so many important trends, such as the mobile video and streaming TV revolutions. Sure, there have been some glitches along the way – such as some concerns with the rollout of DIRECTV Now – but it looks like AT&T has been making all the necessary adjustments.

Years from now, the verdict will be clear — AT&T won’t regret buying DIRECTV. In fact, DIRECTV might be the big reason why AT&T will become the most innovative technology giant in the nation within just a few years.

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