AT&T is looking to change the streaming game with its latest WatchTV option and there is a very good chance it will. While many have considered the streaming market to be a race to the bottom, AT&T is literally starting at rock bottom when it comes to the price. As while $15 is still far from free, it undercuts nearly every major live TV-based streaming option out there, and in most cases by a wide margin. So there is no question on whether $15 is a good price or not – it is. What the real question is, is how much value do you get for that $15, or are you just getting $15 worth of content and options?
Before we get to an answer to that question, though, here’s some background on AT&T's new WatchTV service.
Although this is a set price of $15 (+ tax), things are not quite as straightforward as that. As AT&T is technically offering the service for free to some people. This is due to AT&T’s decision to bundle WatchTV in with its premium wireless service. Therefore, customers who are already signed up with the company’s Unlimited &More or Unlimited &More Premium plans are already customers of WatchTV. The service has literally been included in the wireless plan price at no additional cost. So for those customers, using the service is merely a choice. If you want it, it’s there and already available to you through your existing account.
So here’s the deal. If you want to just pay $15 for WatchTV, you can. If, however, you are also thinking of switching or upgrading your plan then you will be looking at a minimum of $70 (for one line) for the Unlimited &More plan which gives you unlimited data, talk and text, as well as access to WatchTV. That price can drop as low as $40 per line (WatchTV still included) if four-lines are activated on the plan. The Unlimited &More Premium plan adds another $10 to the proceeding, meaning one line will set you back $80 per month with all the perks (including WatchTV), as well as the additional perk of getting a premium network subscription for free. Music options aside, this basically means either HBO, Cinemax, SHOWTIME, or STARZ. The family plan (four lines) premium option has the potential to bring the per-line cost down to $48.
Channels and Content
So what do you actually get for your money? Well, AT&T explains the $15 outlay results in access to more than 30 live TV channels, as well as on-demand access to 15,000 movies and “hit shows.” Of course, you could have access to 100 channels but if they are not the channels you want, then the number becomes meaningless. So here is the full list of the currently included channels – it's supposed to expand in the future.
Generally speaking, this is a fairly good mix of channels and does cover a number of the basics. Take AMC for example, this will be a popular option for many as it is where you’ll find the likes of The Walking Dead (and Fear), The Terror, Preacher, Humans, and so on. Those more concerned with the news gain access to the likes of BBC World News and CNN. While those more interested in lifestyle content have HGTV, ID, and more. ID is one to note in particular, as this is a channel still missing from the likes of YouTube TV – which currently costs $40 per month. So there are some very nice channels included, in spite of the extremely low price.
One of the key selling points with this (or any) streaming service is the lack of hardware needed, as this not only cuts down on having to use additional hardware, but also any costs associated with the hardware. This does also mean device compatibility is crucial. Luckily, WatchTV is arriving with a fairly good degree of device support from launch.
First up, it’s web-based. So regardless of anything, if you have access to a browser, you have access to WatchTV. Likewise, if you own an Android phone or tablet running Android 5.0 (or higher) then you can download the dedicated WatchTV app and tune in this way. The same goes for iOS with the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch all supported – so long as they are running iOS 10 or higher. At the box-level, WatchTV already supports both Apple TV (fourth-generation, minimum) and Amazon Fire TV (second-generation, minimum). So once again, you can directly download the WatchTV app on these devices from the respective app stores.
As for Android TV – no support whatsoever at the moment. AT&T has not confirmed whether Android TV support will come in due course. Therefore, as it stands owners of dedicated Android TV-powered boxes, or TVs powered by Android TV cannot directly make use of WatchTV on their devices. That said, WatchTV does support Chromecast and so owners of a compatible phone and Android TV device or Chromecast (second-generation or higher) can use the Android app and cast content to their big screen. For those in the know – the WatchTV Android app can be sideloaded and works well enough although a mouse-based pointed is needed to properly control and navigate the app.
To cut to the chase, the user experience is surprisingly good. Considering the speed at which WatchTV has arrived to the market, many might assume it was rushed. If that is the case, then the interface does not reflect that, as the app and web solutions work surprisingly well and seem like they have been thought out prior to release. To be clear, this is not the most feature-rich or attractive interface around, but it’s easy to use and navigate, comes with a full TV guide, and even offers some advanced features – such as picture-in-picture. Likewise, the interfaces are account-linked so any searches you make on mobile, for example, can be easily recalled on the desktop web version, and vice versa.
In terms of the app, the home screen consists of three main tabs: Watch Now, My Library and Discover.
Watch Now offers a brief overview of highlighted content split down by category. So for example, you'll start off seeing a carousel of what's on now, and the more you scroll down the more the categories will take effect with subsections like Home & Kitchen, True Crime, Kids, Awesome Occupations, and so on. Each of these will highlight one show from that category though they are also carousel-based allowing the user to side-scroll through different highlighted shows or click through to that specific category.
My Library is fairly self-explanatory as this is basically the bookmark part of the app. No content is shown here unless the user "bookmarks" it. Doing so is also fairly easy as you just need to click on a master link for a show or movie and the option to bookmark it prominently appears on the page. From then on, the bookmarked movies and shows can all easily be found under My Library.
Basically, it's your watchlist and this neatly brings us to the last tab, Discover. This is the beating heart of the app as it's the primary route to finding any and all content. While you can search for content, or pick from the automatically populated content shown on the home screen, Discover is the easiest way to browse the entire catalog and find content to watch or bookmark for later.
Similar to the home screen, the Discovery screen populates "popular" shows and movies for quick finding, while the option to further filter the content based on shows, movies, and networks is also offered. Once filtered, each category can then be filtered again to really hone in on specific content, such as Kids Movies or History & Science shows.
Those more interested in watching content as it broadcasts, hidden away in the top left corner of the home screen is the "Guide" link which takes the user straight through to a nicely laid out guide showing what's on now. With a fairly visible blue bar indicating how much of the broadcast has aired so far.
Generally speaking, the web interface works in an almost identical way and so you should expect the same layout, the same navigation options, and the same user experience overall.
When AT&T first alluded to WatchTV, a number of company representatives confirmed this would be a lite option and even at times suggested it would be a very lite option. But in reality, the channel list on offer is pretty good for the price. There are a number of staple channels included and for those consumers who are not necessarily in need of every channel available, or every premium show, then this will prove to be a good all-around option. Yes, it is entry-level, but a very good entry-level solution.
Consistent with the decent selection of live TV channels, the service does also come with a decent selection of on-demand movies and TV shows. Yes, these are not the newest of titles but they are still content and the selection is varied enough to offer something for everyone. This is not anywhere near Netflix's level, but unless you are heavily interested in Netflix’s own original shows, then this might be a better option in the long-term. With the cost of a Netflix subscription having slowly increased over the last couple of years, this is only a few dollars more and includes live TV. So quite a few of the shows you are waiting to arrive on Netflix can be watched through WatchTV anyway.
Speaking of original content, it was surprising to see AT&T has made some of its own exclusive content available through WatchTV. While some might think this would have been a given, considering it's an A&T service, some of this content is positioned as premium content and is designed to further add value to the likes of DIRECTV NOW. So it’s good to see it being included in the tiered option that is specifically designed to undercut DIRECTV NOW. Time to binge-watch Mr. Mercedes if you have not already.
Unsurprisingly, there’s a lot missing here. Firstly, while the channel list is a positive and does come with a number of key channels, it’s also missing a number of other key channels. So this does come down to whether your key channels are missing. With the exception of a few WatchTV channels, all of the key channels here are offered with other streaming services so if you are missing must-have channels with WatchTV, then this is not going to work for you as an optional add-on, as you’ll likely have most of these channels included with a competing service.
More generally speaking, DVR is missing and this will be a big deal-breaker for some. As AT&T has taken the “WatchTV” name literally here and only provides you with the option to tune in to live TV as it happens. There are no options to record content and so no way to defer watching to a later time. If you miss the show, you miss the show. Period.
Sports. This is probably to be expected considering the price but still needs to be pointed out. There are no sports at all included with WatchTV, and essentially no option to add them after the fact. It's completely void of sports and if that’s is a concern for you, then look elsewhere. WatchTV is not and will likely never be for you.
That’s ok though as the sports you watch are on local channels, right? Well, if that’s the case then think again as WatchTV also does not provide any access to locals at all. Furthermore, AT&T does not seem to have any plans to introduce locals support at a later date. Of course, local channels are usually available over-the-air and so if you have a decent enough aerial and can gain access to the locals in your area, then this might not be a major loss for you.
Multiple streams might be, though. As this is likely to be another aspect that immediately rules WatchTV out for couples and families with the service resigned to one stream at a time. As a result, there is literally no option for two people in the same house to watch different shows at the same time other than having two active accounts at the same time. And if two accounts are needed, then the price of them combined is suddenly more expensive than the likes of Sling TV – which offers three simultaneous streams with its baseline package.
Is it Worth it?
The short answer is yes. It's worth the asking price. However, that answer does depend on what you are looking for, as while the service is worth $15 per month, there are a lot of compromises here. WatchTV is missing far more than it offers and the lack of those features really does result in a budget product overall. If you are literally just looking to ‘watch TV’ as it happens, then for $15, the service is worth it, or at the very least worth testing out. For any additional features at all, or the ability to watch current TV outside of its airing times, this is a complete no-go. You’ll need to opt for one of the other options. Yes, they cost more, but you do get more, and in some cases, a lot more. In short, the channel lineup is worth $15 but the features (or lack thereof) are not.