AT&T helps splash $500 million into some kind of online video service

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As online video takes off, AT&T doesn't want to be left out.

AT&T has partnered with investment firm The Chernin Group, and together they're putting $500 million into the online video business. A press release is short on specifics, but says the new venture will look at both acquisitions and new investments.

“The strategic goal of this initiative will be to invest in advertising and subscription VOD channels as well as streaming services,” the release states. It notes that The Chernin Group has expertise in distributing video and making money from it—the firm is the majority stakeholder in the anime-heavy video service Crunchyroll—and that AT&T brings its massive infrastructure, both for wired and wireless Internet.

The joint venture is somewhat reminiscent of when Verizon and Redbox announced a partnership two years ago, long before they launched the Redbox Instant subscription service. That service ended up being not quite a Netflix rival, as it doesn't include TV shows, though it does offer some newer movies.

Verizon now has even bigger plans in the works. In December, the company acquired OnCue, an Internet video service from Intel that never got off the ground. It's unclear exactly what Verizon will do with the service, but some kind of Internet-only offering for FiOS customers seems plausible.

Meanwhile, Dish Network is making its own online video moves. In March, the satellite TV provider cut a deal with Disney, in which Dish will no longer offer AutoHop to skip commercials on Disney channels. In exchange, Disney is handing over live streaming rights to its channels, allowing Dish to start building its service in earnest.

AT&T may have similarly grand ambitions to transform television, or it could be looking to build something smaller, on the scale of Netflix or Hulu. In any case, it's another sign that telecommunications giants are lumbering into the age of online video.

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