Should OTT and Pay-TV Providers Worry About DIRECTV NOW?

Sling TV, Hulu, and Playstation VUE stand aside; there is a new challenger for the OTT throne. AT&T’s DIRECTV NOW promises 100+ channels for just $35/mo* without the need for a satellite dish or set-top box. At that price and channel count, DIRECTV NOW would be the best OTT option on the market. Yet, AT&T admits that offer will only be available for a limited time. When we look at standard rates, DIRECTV NOW does not differentiate itself significantly.

When judging the value of OTT providers, after price the next most important consideration is content. Specifically, there are four factors to pay attention to: network TV, national sports, regional sports, and premium channels.  For the rest of the article, we’ll be ignoring Hulu in our analysis to not speculate which channels they will offer.

DIRECTV NOWSling TVPlayStation VUEHulu
Monthly Price$35-70$20-40$29.99-64.99$40
Channel Count60-120+20-40+45-90+Unknown

Network TV

With network/broadcast channels there are two considerations when it comes to OTT. First are the channels available, and secondly, if they are offered, are they live or on demand. Based on these factors, DIRECTV NOW doesn’t separate itself from Sling or VUE when it comes to network television. All three providers offer ABC, NBC, and Fox but not CBS (Sling does charge $5/mo for ABC). All also offer only limited live viewing of these channels, with most markets having access to broadcast TV only through VOD.

National Sports

When it comes to national sports we’re just talking about ESPN and the “Big Four” American sports leagues: the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL. All DIRECTV NOW plans offer ESPN. This is an advantage over Sling which only offers ESPN in their Orange and Orange + Blue plans, but PlayStation VUE offers ESPN with all its plans.

In terms of the “Big Four,” DIRECTV NOW does not offer the NFL Network – Sling and VUE both have plans with NFL included – but does offer plans with NBA, MLB, and NHL networks included. Sling allows customers to add NBA TV and NHL Network for $10/mo but does not offer MLB. VUE includes NBA TV in some plans but does not offer the NHL or MLB networks. Not including NFL Network in deference to the other three is an interesting choice for DIRECTV NOW that could pay off, especially if Thursday Night Football is canceled.

NFL Network
MLB Network
NHL Network$

Regional Sports

DIRECTV NOW offers regional sports for all but it’s lowest priced package, “Live a Little.” Sling TV and Playstation VUE offer regional sports through FOX Sports channels. It appears that DIRECTV NOW has an advantage with regional sports, but it’s hard to say for sure since Sling and PlayStation don’t offer the same clear breakdown of their regional sports that DIRECTV NOW does.

Premium/Movie Channels

In this category, we’re really looking for anything unique that these providers offer. For instance, PlayStation VUE includes HBO and Showtime right in their Ultra Slim package. DIRECTV NOW includes STARZ in “Gotta Have It,” but the big news is the ability to add HBO and Cinemax for just $5/mo each. Sling and VUE offers HBO for the standard $15/mo. Also of note, DIRECTV NOW does not offer Showtime and Epix.

What about Pay-TV?

When it comes to OTT, too often we only compare to other OTT options, but the question should always be asked: does it make sense to cut the cord in the first place? Because DIRECTV NOW is an Internet-only service, the cost of Internet should be included in any comparison. We’ll use DIRECTV NOW’s “Go Big” promotional price for our comparison, but keep in mind this rate may go away at any time – when it does, add $25 to the DIRECTV NOW bundles.

CharterDTV NOW + CharterComcastDTV NOW + ComcastATTDTV NOW + ATT
Bundle NameSpectrum TV Select + Internet (60 Mbps)"Go Big" + Spectrum Internet (60 Mbps)X1 Starter Double Play (75 Mbps)"Go Big" + Blast Internet (75 Mbps)Select All Included + Internet 24 (24 Mbps)"Go Big" + Internet 24 (24 Mbps)
Internet PriceN/A$39.99N/A$49.99N/A$50.00
Channel Count125+100+140+100+145+100+
HD Receiver$6.99/moN/A$9.95/moN/A$7.00/moN/A
Month 1 Price (excl. receivers) $89.99$74.99$89.99$84.99$90.00$85.00

Based on comparisons to AT&T’s largest competitors and itself, DIRECTV Now may save cord shavers some money especially when you factor in the price of receivers, though that’s not guaranteed. Yet, in all cases, the traditional pay-TV plan offers more total channels. And remember, pay-TV plans naturally check off the key boxes of local programming (including CBS), national sports, and regional sports.

The Verdict

1.       Compared to other OTT providers, DIRECTV NOW is probably the front-runner unless you really love the NFL or Showtime.

2.       Compared to traditional pay-TV providers, DIRECTV Now does not significantly move the needle towards cutting the cord.


*Limited time offer

All pricing information is based off a representative market and is accurate as of 12/1/16