Part of the reasoning for AT&T purchasing DirecTV and then Warner Media was to bundle cell phone, broadband internet, and video services together to extract more revenue from customers while reducing churn. Part of the reasoning the Department of Justice approved these acquisitions was because AT&T said it would benefit consumers. But with the recent price increases and product changes to DirecTV Now, these arguments are falling apart.
I was a happy customer when DirecTV Now launched back in 2016 due to the solid channel lineup, moderate $35 base price, and especially the $10 discount for AT&T wireless customers. Now the packages available to new customers start at $50 and have several less channels than they used to, but they come with HBO included. This is a bad deal for AT&T customers. AT&T Unlimited&More Premium customers already get their choice of one free subscription service. HBO is the most expensive and by far most popular option, so many customers likely get that for free already. Furthermore, all Unlimited&More customers get free access to AT&T WatchTV, which includes several popular cable channels such as AMC, CNN, Discovery, TBS, and TNT. So new would-be customers of AT&T plus DirecTV Now are getting marginally more programming than they already get with their wireless bill for an additional $50+ per month.
DirecTV Now has some nice things going for it: broadcast and most major sports channels are included in the base package, 20 hours of DVR storage, streaming doesn’t count against data caps for AT&T wireless customers, and it’s 1 of only 3 live streaming services integrated with Apple’s TV app (Vue and Fubo are the others). However, the recent changes and increasing competition mean DirecTV Now doesn’t stand out the way it did in 2016 - whether you get your cell service from AT&T or somewhere else. Even though I’m grandfathered in at $40 for the old base package with more channels, I have canceled my subscription.
The main reason I subscribe to a live streaming service is for sports (and antenna coverage in my area is non-existent). While DirecTV Now has made some advances, they’ve lagged other providers. Fubo, Sling, and Playstation Vue have support for NFL Network and RedZone. Vue supports 5 simultaneous streams (DTV only 2), and now supports picture-in-picture with up to four streams on the Apple TV. YouTube TV has an unlimited DVR with personalized profiles for different family members.
While I do have Hulu and the aforementioned AT&T WatchTV, I plan to take a break from live TV for the Summer and try out either Vue or Sling come football season. I may end up subscribing to a service that costs more than the $40 I’d be paying for DirecTV Now, but I’ll easily save any difference by going without live TV for a few months. I’m currently leaning towards Sling Blue. For just $25 per month, it provides FOX and NBC (but not in all markets), NFL Network, and plenty of other channels. But perhaps most importantly for me, I can get NFL RedZone for another $10 per month, which is how I watch most NFL games anyway. $35 for RedZone is a much lower price than anyone else offers.
These new DirecTV Now packages are not a good deal compared to the competition. AT&T used to compensate for this by offering perks and discounts to their wireless customers, but now that value is starting to erode as there is so much overlap between what AT&T includes in the Unlimited&More services and what they want to charge $50 a month for. I expect DirecTV Now to continue losing customers due to these changes, and perhaps a slight increase to customer churn for AT&T wireless customers as well.