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DirecTV Now Might Not be a Game Changer for Cord-Cutters

AT&T is finally rolling out its DirecTV Now streaming service, that offers 100-plus channels of TV programming for an initial price of $35 per month.

The service, which is available Nov. 30, is aimed at the 20 million households that don’t currently get a pay-TV service. So this is the streaming service that cord cutters have been waiting for?

On the basis of what we have learned with at&T’s press announcement yesterday, DirecTV Now is an interesting but imperfect mobile-friendly option that won’t work for everyone.

For one, it is probably not for most families. The service is limited to two simultaneous streams per account, so only two people can access the service at the same time on different devices.

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Also, in contrast to DirecTV’s satellite-delivered pay-TV service, there will not be a 4K streaming content for those who are looking for top-notch video quality, something that is only available for several different streaming services, including Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Vudu.

Notably missing in the current channel line-up (CBS and the premium Showtime network), and it is unclear whether AT&T will be able to secure it. That means that you subscribe to the CBS All Access (PDF) streaming service, which costs an extra $6 per month, or $10 if you don’t want ads.

DirecTV not DVR ability to record and watch shows later. The company says that it will come next year.

And a number of sports fans may not feel that the service is adequate to fill their needs. With CBS is absent from the line-up, you will miss some of the NFL games and the NCAA Division 1 basketball tournament. You also won’t for NFL Sunday Ticket, a big attraction on the DirecTV satellite TV service.

“It is an interesting service that provides a lot of flexibility, but it is not the game-changer many had in mind, at least at the launch,” said Dan Rayburn, principal analyst at research firm Frost & Sullivan.

“For starters, the $35 pricing AT&T is excited about a ‘limited time offer’ and we do not know how long the prices will be available,” Rayburn adds. “And the two-stream limitation means that the service is not great for families.”

Rayburn also notes that at the launch of the service is not supported on Roku devices or Xbox and PlayStation game consoles, all of which have huge installed bases.

“And AT&T do not disclose the maximum bit rate for the streaming video, so it is not yet clear what the quality of the streaming video will be,” he says.

Rayburn research about the service, the content-delivery networks—the backbone of the connections that streaming services rely on leads him to believe that AT&T has the capacity to serve approximately 1 million concurrent DirecTV Now subscribers.

Four Programming Schedule

So what will subscribers get? As you can see in the chart above, you will get a mix of live and on-demand channels, somewhere between 60 and 120 in all) depending on the programming tier you choose.

While the early announcements about the service seemed to indicate that DirecTV would Now cost just € 35 per month for the 100-channel-plus package, it turns out that a temporary promotion price for the early subscribers.

The company didn’t say when the promotional period would end, but said that the price would be an exception made for the start of the subscribers for as long as they kept to the service, subject to future programming price increases imposed on all packages.

Once the promotional price expires, four DirecTV Now programming packages are offered:

  • A $35 per month to “Live a Little” package of 60-plus channels
  • A $50 per month “the package of 80-plus channels
  • A $60 per month “in the Large” package of 100-plus channels
  • A $70 per month “must Have” package with 120-plus channels.

Even the most basic package includes many popular “cable” channels such as A&E, AMC, Bravo, CNN, Disney, ESPN, Fox News, FX, Syfy, and TLC. Each successive tier adds channels.

Subscribers in some markets will also be able to see live local ABC, NBC, and Fox stations. Otherwise, prime-time shows from these networks will be offered on demand a day after they initially air.

A surprise was that the subscribers will be able to both HBO or Cinemax for only $ 5 more per month per piece.

Yesterday during the press event, AT&T also touted some of the original content that is available on DirecTV Now, also the new channels of Taylor Swift (“Taylor Swift”) and Reese Witherspoon, whose production company will focus on female-oriented shows and movies.

At launch, DirecTV is Now available on Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick, Chromecast (Android) and Apple TV streaming media players, but also on Android mobile devices and tablets, Apple iPhones and iPads, as well as on Internet Explorer, Chrome, Safari, and internet browsers. It will be accessible through Google Cast-enabled smart Tvs from LeEco, as well as on Vizio SmartCast Tv’s.

Those who are willing to pay for service can get a free Apple TV (three months) or an Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote control (one month of prepaid service).

AT&T says that in 2017 it will add Roku streaming players and Roku Tv, Chromecast, iOS, smart Tvs from Samsung and other brands, and Amazon Fire tablets. There was no talk of support on any game consoles.

Several analysts have speculated that, at least in the first instance, AT&T will have little or no money on the service, but it might help customers to the company of the mobile business.

One of the reasons is that DirecTV Now is especially good for AT&T-mobile customers, since the data is streamed via that service to a phone or tablet will not count against their mobile data limits.

If you have your mobile service from another provider, all that video can burn a lot of data, a potential problem for those who have data caps or limited data plans.

“Zero-rating” plans such as these, that are exempt from a company’s own data caps or surcharges, have come under fire for violating the spirit of net neutrality.

More Streaming Options

We take a look at DirecTV Now once started, but the nearest competitors are Dish’s Sling TV and Sony’s PlayStation Vue.

Sling TV Orange plan offers about 20 channels for $20 and $25 Sling TV-Blue package includes about 45 channels. A combined package with 50 channels costs $40.

Another competitor, the PlayStation Vue, contains about 55 channels in the $30 per month starter package; the Elite Smart Plan offers 100-plus channels for $55 per month.

The streaming room will be more pressure next year, as Hulu is expected to launch in a live TV service. Google is also planning to offer a number of type of slimmed-down YouTube-based TV service.

Bottom line. We do not believe DirecTV is Now for everyone, but it is an interesting addition to the choices that are now available for those who have avoided traditional TV packages.

Because there are no annual contracts and no credit checks, and you can cancel at any time, cord-cutters and cord-nevers would like to give the service a spin.

But DirecTV is not really a “skinny” TV package, and is in many respects seems to replicate a cable TV plan, especially the upper programming tiers.

And as the rising content costs power of AT&T for the imposition of an annual subscription cost increases, DirecTV Now can begin to feel a little more cable-like than a lot of cord-cutters will be comfortable with.

Copyright © 2005-2016 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction, in whole or in part, without written permission. Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this site.

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