One of the reasons for this is the channel lineup as in spite of increasing the entry-level price from $40 to $50, the entry-level option now offers far fewer channels than it did before. For reference, the previous “Live a little” entry-level plan was listed as coming with “65+” channels compared to the new “Plus” entry-level plan that features “40+” channels.
AT&T has been trying to make the case that the newer plans are fewer in the channel department due to the company adopting more of a “slimmer, quality-driven” approach. Therefore AT&T is arguing that although there’s less channels, you get better channels.
It would seem a lot of consumers are already disagreeing with this point due to AT&T having now removed a number of popular channels from DIRECTV NOW, including the likes of AMC, Discovery, HISTORY, ID, and more. Most of those major -- and presumable in AT&T’s view ‘lesser quality’ -- channels are conveniently available through WatchTV. Which coincidentally makes it better for AT&T if you subscribe to both as the overlap between the two is now smaller than ever before.
In fact, nearly all of what little overlap there now is comes down to properties owned by AT&T. A point that illustrates AT&T is happy to share its content with subscribers of both services irrespective of whether that content is “quality-driven” or helps with creating a “slimmer” product overall.
On the AT&T-owned point, if you take a closer look at how the DIRECTV NOW channel landscape has now changed it starts to become clearer that as well as this now being a “slimmer, quality-driven” service, it also happens to be an AT&T-driven service.
To make the before and after views easier to digest, only the previous Live a little and new Plus baseline plans have been compared.
Starting with the Live a little plan, DIRECTV NOW was a service that offered a wide range of channels from a wide range of media companies. Arguably, a very wide one as the “Other” category in the image below is primarily made up of single networks owned by different media companies.
The eclectic category aside, Viacom has proven to be one of the major contributors to the baseline DIRECTV NOW package up until now. However, things appear far different when it comes to the newer Plus baseline plan.
First off, the drop in the number of channels is highly evident with this certainly now looking like a slimmed-down product. However, what’s probably more revealing is how drastically the “Other” category has shrunk, resulting in a significant move down the ‘number of channels’ hierarchy. In principle, as those channels are mostly from singular media companies, cutting them out might indeed be a good way to trim the fat.
The problem is, it is not only those singular channels that have now gone as all of the Viacom and Discovery channels have been cut as well. Considering Viacom was one of the driving-forces before, and Discovery provides some of the most popular entertainment-based channels and programs, this marks a fairly drastic change in the sum of the content.
In addition, it also shifts the landscape to be one that is now overall driven by AT&T-owned entities. Of course, this in itself is a new development as most of the channels that populate the "AT&T" category were picked up when AT&T acquired Time Warner. They are mostly WarnerMedia-owned channels.
This is not a bad thing as any company undoubtedly would want to utilize the content it now owns and especially with the price it paid for it in the first place. But one of the issues here is how AT&T has upped the cost for the service in spite of it now being more populated by more of its own content than any other media company's.
One might assume cutting access to content from other media companies would actually help to cut costs and allow AT&T to offer a more competitively-priced product in general - or at least mitigate against a price rise -- but based on the company's actions, AT&T presumably disagrees.
What’s more, it remains to be seen just how long this lineup will stay as it now is. With the exception of Fox and NBC, Disney is one of the companies that arguably now contributes a fair amount to the DIRECTV NOW channel lineup - although also less than it did before.
This raises some concern for the future of the current channel lineup as Disney is expected to launch its own streaming service soon and that’s expected to be an all-in, Disney-only service.
Right now it is unclear if Disney will want to continue to allow its properties to be siphoned out to other streaming services (like AT&T’s) once its own service goes live. While there might be some wiggle room when it comes to live channel access, Disney is likely to want to keep on-demand access as limited as possible in a bid to help drive consumers towards its new service.
Arguably, this also could be true for the WarnerMedia content as AT&T has already confirmed it will launch a dedicated WarnerMedia streaming service in late 2019. With AT&T expected to focus this new service on WarnerMedia content it remains to be seen where the new service will fit in the market following these latest changes to DIRECTV NOW. For example, HBO is understood to be leading that new service, but it is also now leading the new DIRECTV NOW service as well. With these changes in effect, there's likely to be a serious overlap between the upcoming service and the new DIRECTV NOW service and that's something AT&T will have to deal with.
For example, if the new Disney and WarnerMedia services do arrive focused on gaining users through a 'you can only get it here' model, then it might be the case that DIRECTV NOW becomes even “slimmer” in the future.