Editor’s Corner—AT&T’s new full DirecTV satellite streaming packages raise a lot of questions


AT&T’s full DirecTV satellite TV packages are now available as streaming options on the DirecTV Now website. But the packages raise a lot of questions.

The service launch is not surprising. AT&T executives have been talking for a while about offering DirecTV as a streaming service that won’t need a satellite dish. Last year, AT&T CFO John Stephens said during an earnings call that his company will pursue a more measured rollout for the new full DirecTV product and that he expects the service to be EBITDA positive and to lower the acquisition cost for DirecTV’s premium video service.

A key contributor to that lower acquisition cost is AT&T getting out of the truck roll for installation by shipping a streaming TV box that the customer can set up on their own. The company has long been developing an Android TV box and has begun beta-testing it with consumers over the past few months. But it’s unclear whether that box is shipping yet with these new packages.

The signup process for the new streaming packages—which range in price from $86 per month to $135 per month—makes no mention of AT&T’s proprietary hardware. And the device compatibility list for DirecTV Now features hardware from Roku, Apple, Amazon, Google and Samsung along with web support, but not AT&T’s Android TV-based box.

The new packages also call into question just how much of the full DirecTV channel lineup can be replicated within a streaming product. The Entertainment, Choice, Xtra and Ultimate streaming packages all match up with their corresponding DirecTV satellite TV packages in terms of price, but not in terms of channel lineups. Often, the streaming packages have fewer than half the channels of the satellite TV packages.

The $93-per-month Entertainment package on DirecTV Now’s website says it has more than 65 channels. On DirecTV’s site, the same package has more than 160 channels. The same goes for the other packages: Choice has more than 85 streaming channels versus more than 185 satellite channels, Xtra has more than 105 streaming channels versus more than 235 satellite channels, and Ultimate has more than 125 streaming channels versus more than 250 satellite channels.

The discrepancies could come down to streaming rights versus satellite distribution rights, meaning the packages could even out over time if AT&T and DirecTV are able to renegotiate some carriage agreements. AT&T did not immediately respond to questions about whether the new streaming box was shipping, nor to questions about the channel lineup differences between the streaming and satellite packages.

The company did however specify that it is not launching a new streaming service and that the “Entertainment, Choice, Xtra and Ultimate packages are names that align across our video products and are consistent with our satellite price point and branding," according to a DirecTV Now spokesperson.

Then there’s the question of how subscribers can buy these new streaming packages. According to Cord Cutter News, the new DirecTV streaming packages are only for sale online and not in AT&T stores. Again, AT&T did not immediately respond to a request for confirmation regarding in-store sales. But it’s possible that the company is waiting until it’s further along with the rollout of this product before it begins pushing it in brick-and-mortar locations.

Considering AT&T said that it was going to pursue a “measured rollout” with its full streaming DirecTV service, it’s possible that these questions will go unanswered for the time being. But eventually, consumers will want to know whether AT&T’s streaming box is included with the streaming service, and why the streaming packages cost the same but offer so many fewer channels than the satellite service. — Ben | @fierce__video