Article: DirecTV Now Later
It's been a few months since I signed up for DirecTV Now , and the service has been mostly positive after a very rough first month, especially for the lower volume of television that I'm watching these days. There were some early items that have been worked out, some continuing complaints, and increasing competition from mosother products. Just over four months later, I thought it was time to revisit the service.
I'll start with the bad items, since they have been annoying, but haven't forced me to run to some other service. The biggest is just the poor customer service and lack of common sense for anything that goes off-script. I'm pretty aware of things like licensing, blackout rules for sports, and how my devices should work, so getting a canned response for basic troubleshooting my home network when the issue is clearly service-side is frustrating. Since I’m pretty self-sufficient and am fine with putting up with the lack of customer service to save a lot of money, I’ve overlooked many minor issues. Unfortunately, most resolutions have been to simply wait it out.
For some reason, regional sports networks have been consistently broken for many people, and I'm in the area where I should get CSN Chicago, Fox Sports Midwest, and Fox Sports Indiana. Even though most other services have figured this out (and AT&T could probably see what I should get on DirecTV or U-verse), I missed most of the mediocre Pacers season until DirecTV Now worked with the Fox Sports Go app. If you don't know, Fox Sports is based around "hub" channels (in my case Fox Sports Midwest) and then there's some forked variants. Fox Sports Midwest + Cincinnati Reds + Cleveland Cavaliers = Fox Sports Ohio. Fox Sports Ohio + Indiana Pacers – Cleveland Cavaliers = Fox Sports Indiana. Unfortunately, they never could seem to figure out how to get Fox Sports Indiana on my lineup, so Pacers games might show up on the guide, but were never actually carried. I can live with going through the Fox Sports Go app, so I've learned to live with it.
Within the last month, I realized that CSN Chicago, while in my lineup, was not airing any spring training games for the Chicago Cubs and White Sox. Instead, during games, there would be a never-ending loop of the CSN bumper music with the CSN logo and a message that my programming was unavailable. Apparently AT&T and Comcast worked out to use the app streams for the Comcast properties, as commercials are generally not there (same with CNBC, MSNBC, and USA) and that didn't include baseball broadcasts. Fortunately, as of this writing, the White Sox home opener seems to be working and we'll see if the Cubs work later this week. Additionally, even though they should be available through the NBC Sports app (like the Pacers on Fox Sports Go), the streams don't seem to work.
Additionally, with March Madness wrapping up, AT&T really missed a big opportunity with DirecTV Now, as it's one of the few services that do not work as a login for the March Madness app (yes, you could watch the games in the DirecTV Now app and web site, but you lose some of the features like side-by-side games and fast switching). I suspect this will be sorted out by the time the tournament starts next year, but kind of disappointing for a big sponsor of the games and a good chunk of games airing on networks that AT&T is trying to buy.
Finally, on-demand has been very hit-or-miss with some items missing and I've basically given up on using it. Oh, and Roku folks are still waiting for support.
The big issues that had me looking at alternatives were reasonably fixed after the first month or month and a half. Streaming had been almost flawless and there was a brief stretch where frame rates and resolutions were dropped on some channels, but that's appears back to normal levels.
Next, the service has added quite a few other network app logins, so this mitigates the poor on-demand library by letting you just use someone else's app. The lineup is getting more extensive and if the app in questions offers a live stream, that's an easy way around the two-stream limit with the DirecTV Now app.
Speaking of apps, AT&T did give everyone who had subscribed before March 6 a free year of HBO (and HBO Go). This was normally a $5 option, so it was nice to see a little bonus to smooth over early frustrations.
I prefer watching the service through my Apple TVs and an Amazon Fire TV Stick, as I’m still of the mindset that TV content on large TVs is better. The mobile apps seem to work well enough, but I'd say maybe less than 5% of my viewing took place on them. I've recently switched away from AT&T for my phone service, so I'm not taking advantage of the zero-rated streaming anyway.
Unfortunately, DirecTV Now does count against the 1TB cap I have on AT&T's home Internet service (formerly branded as U-verse), which is a tad counterintuitive, but I get that they'd rather me bundle with some sort of more expensive TV service if I was really watching a lot. Because of this, there really isn't advantage or disadvantage if I were to look at going to Comcast for Internet (they also have a 1TB cap in my area).
The promotions are now over, so pricing for anyone new starts at $35, but if you want regional sports networks or additional ESPN flavors, the $50 option is the sweet spot. I'll try to keep the promotional Go Big plan for $35 (regularly $60) for as long as I can because it's a great deal and has some channels that I wasn't getting with U-verse or DirecTV at double the price. Although my view on value has been skewed by the introductory pricing, I think the $35 lineup is pretty good for someone looking to join now.
The service is maturing and showing some progress. It's not perfect, and I missed some things while waiting for channels to be fixed or deals to be worked out. There has been significant progress since December and that’s important. There's still way more channels and content than I want or need, but it is a step closer to the dream of à la carte TV and it sounds like the competition from Hulu, YouTube, Verizon, PlayStation Vue, SlingTV, and others will keep AT&T honest at least for the foreseeable future.