Tuesday, November 29, 2016

AT&T DirecTV Now app launching on Nov. 30 starting at $35

After months of rumors, AT&T officially unveiled its DirecTV Now internet TV streaming service this afternoon at an event in New York City. The product, which starts at $35 per month, is meant to compete with traditional cable providers and a wave of web TV offerings including Dish’s Sling TV, Sony PlayStation Vue, and upcoming services from Hulu and YouTube. DirecTV Now launches Wednesday, November 30th, in the US on iPhone, Android, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, and PC/Mac. Roku compatibility will arrive later this year.

A free 7-day trial is available for new customers, and a whole year of DirecTV Now is included with the purchase of some 2016 LeEco televisions. AT&T is offering an appealing hardware giveaway, as well: if you prepay for three months of DirecTV Now, you’ll receive a free Apple TV set-top box.

Like its over-the-top rivals , DirecTV Now will let customers stream live programming on smartphones, tablets, and PCs — no cable box necessary — and requires no long-term contracts or commitments. For a limited time, AT&T will offer the “Go Big” channel tier with 100 channels for $35 per month. (The normal $35 base package is limited to “60+ channels.”) If you sign up in time, the offer will remain valid each month until you cancel. But that $35 rate is not the long-term pricing for 100+ channels. DirecTV Now offers step-up subscriptions that include other channels and content for a higher monthly cost. They break down like so:

Live a Little: $35 / month (60+ channels)
Just Right: $50 / month (80+ channels)
Go Big: $60 / month (100+ channels)
Gotta Have It: $70 / month (120+ channels)

AT&T has signed programming agreements with nearly all major networks with the exception of CBS and Showtime; negotiations with those companies remain ongoing. DirecTV Now allows customers to watch up to two streams simultaneously. Unfortunately, the first iteration of DirecTV now will not include any cloud DVR functionality a la PlayStation Vue — or even the option to pause what you’re currently watching — at launch. AT&T expects to add a “full DVR” component to Now sometime next year. “This is the first inning” was a line that executives focused on.

Live streaming from the major networks (ABC, Fox, NBC) is also a mixed bag: you’ll be able to watch live programming in major cities where the networks themselves own the local station. But where affiliates are involved, most users will have access to day-after on demand replays of primetime shows. Verizon retains its exclusive mobile rights to NFL games on broadcast networks — so you can’t watch them on your smartphone, but can stream them on other devices.

HBO and Cinemax can be added to any of these packages for just $5 extra (each) per month. DirecTV Now is “zero rated” for the company’s wireless customers, so regardless of how much time they spend streaming, that activity will have no impact on data usage for their monthly bill. Importantly, while these are the subscription rates as of today, the company is being straightforward about the possibility of increases in the future. AT&T also plans to air original shows including a Taylor Swift series.

Though it shares similar branding, DirecTV Now is a standalone, separate service that’s completely different from the company’s satellite TV business. AT&T is treating it as the “appification” of TV. John Stankey, CEO of AT&T’s Entertainment Group, described the potential as “bigger than U-Verse.” With this new over-the-top streaming effort, the company is targeting approximately 20 million households that are not currently part of the pay TV world.

AT&T plans to use its significant distribution chain — retail stores, call centers, etc. — to help boost DirecTV Now against its competition. But at the outset, it sounds much closer to what Sling TV looked like at launch than anything else: barebones, live TV with no frills. 

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