DirecTV Now price hikes: What cord-cutters need to know

AT&T removes channels from its live TV streaming service, while also raising prices.

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AT&T is holding a red wedding for DirecTV Now this week, axing dozens of channels from its lineup for new subscribers and raising prices for everyone.

Gone are the old DirecTV Now plans that ranged from $40 to $75 per month. In their place are a $50-per-month “DirecTV Now Plus” plan without regional sports, and a $70-per-month “DirecTV Now Max” plan with regional sports. Both include HBO, but are missing many popular channels that came with the old plans, including HGTV, Nickelodeon, and AMC.

Existing customers will get to keep their current lineups, but will pay an extra $10 per month from April 12 on. The add-on price for HBO will also jump from $5 per month to $15 per month.

All of which means that if you’d been factoring DirecTV Now into your cord-cutting plans, you’ll need to recalculate. Read on for a breakdown of everything that’s changing and what you can do about it.

DirecTV Now price hikes for current subscribers

If you signed up for DirecTV Now before March 13, you must now evaluate whether it’ll still be worthwhile after price hikes kick in on April 12. Consider the following:

  • DirecTV Now’s starting price (also known as the “Live a Little” package) will jump to $50 per month, and that’s without regional sports.
  • The cheapest plan that includes regional sports (“Just Right”) will jump to $65 per month.
  • DirecTV Now’s HBO add-on, previously $5 per month, will increase to $15 per month, which is no cheaper than adding HBO to other services or subscribing to HBO Now by itself.
  • By comparison, other live TV services that offer local channels, major cable news networks, and regional sports include: YouTube TV ($40 per month), Hulu with Live TV ($45 per month), PlayStation Vue Core ($50 per month), and FuboTV ($45 per month, but without ABC or ESPN).

In light of all this, why would you hang onto DirecTV Now?

Here’s one reason: If you don’t care about regional sports, but are interested in Viacom channels (such as BET, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, or VH1), DirecTV Now will remain the cheapest option that also includes local channels. The other live TV services I mentioned above don’t offer Viacom channels at all, which means you’d need to add a subscription to Philo ($16 per month) or AT&T Watch ($15 per month) to access them. At $50 per month, DirecTV Now’s basic plan remains the cheaper option. Sling TV also offers Viacom channels, but its local channel coverage is lacking. You'd need an antenna to get those locals.

DirecTV Now’s old lineup also includes several other channels that are either unavailable or expensive to get from competing services. It’s the only service that includes C-SPAN, OAN, Ovation, WeatherNation, TVOne, FM, and AWE, and the only one aside from FuboTV that offers MSG and The Weather Channel.

Keep in mind that with DirecTV Now’s new lineup, all the channels I just mentioned are going away except MSG, which will join the new $70-per-month tier. If you cancel service now, you won’t be able to get those channels back. Before you make any changes, I suggest viewing this comparison chart of new and old DirecTV Now plans, which I captured from AT&T’s DirecTV Now site over the weekend.

DirecTV Now’s lineup for new subscribers

If you don’t have DirecTV Now already, the new plans are even harder to justify.

At $50 per month, the new “Plus” plan bears the most resemblance to YouTube TV. Both include local broadcast channels, major cable news networks, and ESPN. And both offer a similar mix of entertainment channels. YouTube TV, however, only costs $40 per month, and it includes many of the regional and national sports networks that would cost $70 per month with DirecTV Now’s “Max” package.

Hulu with Live TV and PlayStation Vue have similar advantages. The former costs $45 per month, while the latter costs $50 per month with regional sports, and both include many channels that DirecTV Now lacks, including Discovery, HGTV, and Food Network. Hulu also offers A&E networks, while PlayStation Vue includes channels from AMC.

DirecTV Now only becomes economical if you don’t care about regional sports, don’t want channels from Discovery, A&E, or AMC, and wouldn’t otherwise subscribe to HBO, which is included in the new plans. Even then, you’ll end up with the stingiest DVR of any live TV streaming service. In almost every conceivable instance, you’re better off subscribing to alternative services and adding HBO if you want it.

What it all means

As expected, the DirecTV Now shakeups have already produced some sky-is-falling outlooks on live TV streaming services, predicting that DirecTV Now’s rivals will soon follow in raising prices and slashing channels.

While it’s true that live TV streaming is a cutthroat business, let’s not conflate DirecTV Now’s specific challenges with those of the entire live TV streaming market.

For these services to become profitable, they need to scale up, so they can make more money from targeted advertising or add-on services. That probably won’t be a problem for a well-funded tech company like YouTube, but it’s definitely an issue for AT&T, which is under significant debt from acquiring DirecTV and Time Warner, and is also trying to build an HBO-powered streaming service that’s big enough to take on Netflix.

Something had to give, and in this case it was the idea that DirecTV Now could chase growth at the same rate as YouTube TV, Hulu with Live TV and the rest of the field all while also building an entirely new streaming service, paying down debt, and satisfying shareholders. Just because AT&T decided to slash channels and raise prices doesn’t mean everyone else is sharpening their knives.

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