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Review: DIRECTV Now

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DIRECTV Now is the new streaming service from AT&T that just launched at the end of November. Unlike the satellite service DIRECTV, this new service is offered completely over the Internet via live streaming. Think of it as an easier, simpler solution to getting the best content that doesn’t involve annual contracts and hooking up a satellite dish.

What content is available via live streaming?

The first question on everyone’s mind, of course, is what kind of content will be available via streaming. This is AT&T, after all, so the expectation is that there is going to be a lot more content on this service than on competing services. In many ways, DIRECTV Now doesn’t disappoint – it handles much like a slightly slimmed down satellite TV service, but at a more affordable price point.

The entry level package offers all the major TV networks, with just one exception: CBS. So the entry package includes the likes of CNN, ESPN, AMC, CNBC, Discovery, Disney, Fox News, MSNBC, NBC Sports, TBS and Nickelodeon.

At the next higher price point, you can get premium channels like ESPN News, MLB Network, NBA TV and BBC World News all bundled together.

For fans of HBO and Cinemax, there’s even the option to add them for only $5 each per month. To give you an idea of how great a deal that is, the cost of standalone streaming either of those would be $14.99 per month. When you order HBO and Cinemax via DIRECTV Now, you also get authenticated access to their apps, so you also get to watch them on your mobile devices, as long as you have a Wi-Fi connection.

Pricing of DIRECTV Now

As part of a special promotional rate that was valid up until the middle of January, it was possible to get the “Go Big” package of 100+ live channels at a discounted rate of $35 per month. Going up to the next price tier – $70 per month – would get you 120 channels, so it’s easy to guess which option most consumers chose as long as AT&T was offering the special promotional rate. In short, $35 was a steal.

And, just to sweeten the pot, DIRECTV Now doesn’t require a contract or any kind of lock-in. This is supposed to be TV, the way you want it. There’s no equipment to buy, either.

At the end of the promotional period, the plan was to raise the price up to $60 for the basic package. So, if you add in both HBO and Cinemax, that would be $70 per month. That’s not cheap, but compared to cable – where nearly one-third of consumers pay more than $100 per month, it’s very affordable.

There’s one other pricing twist to keep in mind. If you’re an AT&T wireless customer, then there might be a better economic argument for choosing this service. That’s because watching video on DIRECTV Now doesn’t count against your data limits. So, for example, if you’re watching a two-hour movie from DIRECTV Now on your AT&T wireless tablet, that wouldn’t be included in your monthly data cap. So, it’s easy to see how some customers might be tempted to drop their existing wireless service provider, sign up for AT&T, and then order DIRECTV Now.

Competitive landscape

The big question, of course, is how consumers will view the new service. Is it a Netflix replacement? Or just a cable TV replacement? And which live streaming service does it most resemble? Based on initial consumer feedback, it looks like DIRECTV Now is basically a replacement for DIRECTV. The live streaming competitor mentioned most often by consumers is Sling TV, which you can get for $20 per month. Another similar competitor is PlayStation Vue.

That pricing is going to present some problems for DIRECTV Now, especially since the price is now $60 and not $35. So you’re comparing a $20 per month service to a $60 per month service. So what does DIRECTV offer that Sling TV doesn’t?

That’s an easy question to answer: a ton more archived content that can be played on-demand. DIRECTV boasts that it has more than 10,000 titles available on demand. That’s easily as many titles as you might expect from a mainstream cable TV or satellite TV provider.

Which is why it’s hard to shake the feeling that DIRECTV Now is basically going to siphon away some of the DIRECTV audience. Wouldn’t you switch over if you could avoid the contract and get almost the same amount of content without changing your provider and getting some cheaper pricing as an extra kicker?

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Quality issues

The major problem facing DIRECTV Now are nagging questions about quality. The concern among consumers is that AT&T might have tried to rush this product to market without fixing all the bugs. Just check out social media – the complaints keep rolling in about glitches, freezes, buffering errors, and app crashes.

In fact, there’s a real consumer backlash growing on social media, with a lot of people saying they plan to quit after the promotional pricing runs out. Others are actually threatening to sue DIRECTV Now after they got permanently logged out of their account and couldn’t get back in. Essentially, they’re saying that AT&T pocketed their $35 monthly fees without providing the agreed upon service. Let’s just hope these are “teething troubles,” as one business news source called them.

Other features

There’s one more issue that needs to be cleared up about this new DIRECTV Now service, and that’s the need for extra equipment. Technically, if you’re planning only to watch TV on mobile devices (i.e. a tablet or phone), you don’t need any equipment, and certainly not any satellite dish. And, if you’re planning on watching on your laptop, you just watch by heading over to DIRECTVnow.com.

However, what happens if you’re planning on watching on your home TV? That’s where things get interesting, because you will need some kind of set-top box to play the content and access the menu. There’s no AT&T set-top box – instead, you need to have something like an Apple TV or Chromecast. During the promotional period, DIRECTV Now was giving away a free Apple TV worth $149 if you agreed to pay the first three months upfront.

Moreover, one drawback to the service is a lack of a DVR, although AT&T says that it plans to add one soon. So there’s no way to watch shows without commercials, like you might with a cable TV or satellite TV subscription.

Conclusions

So, summing up all the pros and cons, the major pro is an amazing amount of content, both live and on-demand. The pricing is also attractive, but not nearly as attractive if you can’t get the promotional rate. In terms of cons, the overall quality of the service has to be named as one. And the need for a set-top box if you don’t already have one is also an issue.

The consensus: if you want to cut the cord, but still want the safety of knowing that you have access to almost all the content you would with a regular cable TV provider, then this service might make sense for you. Moreover, if you only plan on watching via an app on your tablet or on your laptop, then this also might make sense. But if you’re planning to have regular “family nights” in front of the TV, then it’s easy to see how a cheaper service like Sling TV might make a more compelling option for now – at least until DIRECTV Now works out all the glitches in its service.

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