I was already primed to cut the cord when I stumbled upon the DirecTV Now deal: an Apple TV 4K for the cost of a 3-month subscription, or $150 for a $159 device with 3 free months of streaming. My cable company raised the price of my monthly bill by $70 over the course of a year for absolutely no reason, and I subscribe to AT&T for my wireless service, so the free Apple TV sweetened the deal enough for me to sign up.
At the time, DirecTV Now was only $55 a month for the mid-priced tier with plenty of great channels. (My plan increased to $65 a month. There are now a $50 Plus plan and a $70 Max plan, both of which include HBO but lack basic channels. More on that later.)
But the thrill of a cheaper monthly bill (compared to cable) and the novelty of a new set-top box are long gone, and DirecTV Now is so annoying that when I recently moved across the country, I decided to leave AT&T’s streaming service behind, too.
I’m not alone. AT&T lost 83,000 DirecTV Now subscribers in the first quarter of this year. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said during the company’s earnings call that, despite continued losses, AT&T “should have a decent second half of the year for DirecTV Now."
But here’s why people are leaving the streaming service in droves, and what AT&T can do to fix it.
The price is wrong
When I signed up for DirecTV Now, the service was competitively priced. For $50 a month, I got all the channels I wanted, from classic movies and comedy to my husband’s favorite Adult Swim cartoons and our mutually beloved cooking shows.
But when I canceled DirecTV Now, the price had increased to $65 a month — less than eight months into my subscription — with no apparent benefit. The first $5 bump I could stomach, but then a $10 increase a few months later — and for what? The channels stayed the same, and the service didn’t improve.
For new subscribers, AT&T jacked up the price of the base streaming package from $35 to $50. For that price, you get 45 channels. A $70 Max bundle includes more channels than the Plus, but both packages lack favorites like AMC, Cooking Channel, Food Network, HGTV and others that my grandfathered plan included.
App glitches galore
When I subscribed to DirecTV Now, I bumped up my internet speed to 400 Mbps so I wouldn’t have any streaming issues. That cost me $89.99, for a total of $140 a month for both internet and streaming. I shudder to think of how glitchy the DirecTV Now app for tvOS would’ve been if I hadn’t subscribed to my internet provider’s top-tier plan.
It seemed like every day, the stream would crap out. Sometimes it was a black screen with no content playing; on other days, a blue screen with a server error message.
When DirecTV Now rolled out a beta DVR feature, I was thrilled. But on more than a handful of occasions, the recorded playback was...off. The voices didn’t match the video, or the playback would pause on a frame and I would have to fast-forward a few seconds ahead to jump back into the recording. You also only get 20 hours of cloud storage, and the app deletes your recordings after a month.
The DirecTV Now app is designed like a traditional pay TV service — at first glance.
A guide of channels lets you see what’s playing now and what’s coming up next so you can record it. But there are no numbers attached to the channels, so you can’t type in a shortcut to access it. You also can’t consult Siri on the Apple TV remote to call up a specific channel. Your only recourse is to add a limited number of channels to your favorites — or be stuck in swiping hell to change channels.
Eventually, this interface wore me down, and I stopped thinking about it. But now that I can press a button on a remote provided by my cable company to skip back to the previous channel, I feel like a new woman.
AT&T’s WarnerMedia is launching yet another streaming service later this year. That one will cost $16-$17 a month and will be more of a Netflix rival than a threat to cable. Maybe I’ll decide to pay AT&T for Warner Bros. movies or whatever it sticks in its WarnerMedia service. But DirecTV Now is a no-go.
DirecTV Now was so irritating that it drove me back into the deceptive arms of cable, which is offering me the low, low price of $130 for both cable and internet. (This won’t last after a year, and then the cycle will continue.
AT&T doesn’t care. Last year the company launched yet another streaming service, WatchTV, which starts at $15 a month for 35 channels. (Why not focus on DirecTV Now rather than launch a separate, lower-priced service? Your guess is as good as mine.)