DirecTV Stream's cancellation policy is a total mess now

Cord cutters beware: DirecTV Stream doesn't make cancellation easy anymore.

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Convenient online cancellation has always been one of cord cutting's greatest perks. Whether you're cancelling Netflix, Hulu, YouTube TV, or Philo, you never have to pick up the phone or deal with annoying customer service representatives to get rid of your service.

DirecTV Stream, formerly known as AT&T TV, AT&T Now, and DirecTV Now, has become the exception. In recent weeks, DirecTV quietly changed its policies so that most new customers can only stop service though an online chat, while some existing customers must call a customer service number to cancel. Easy online cancellation only remains available for some legacy subscribers and for customers in New York and California, where state laws require fewer hoops to jump through.

It didn't used to be this way. Back when the service was called DirecTV Now, any customer could cancel online just by clicking a button, and that practice continued for several years as the service went through numerous name changes. But now that AT&T has spun off DirecTV into a separate company that's focused on pay TV bundles, it's fallen back onto sleazy satellite TV tactics to retain subscribers.

How do you cancel DirecTV Stream now?

Nick Ammazzalorso, a DirecTV spokesman, wouldn't say exactly when DirecTV Stream dropped its one-click cancellation option for new subscribers, but noted that the service rebranded from AT&T TV on August 26. That's likely when the company changed its policies. (I only discovered the change after hearing from a reader who had trouble cancelling his service.)

If you signed up online for either AT&T TV or DirecTV Stream, heading to DirecTV's account management page and clicking the "Cancel my subscription" link now leads to a pop-up, where you must click a "Chat to cancel" button. This launches an online chat session where you must submit your request to a DirecTV agent.

directvcancel3 Jared Newman / IDG

For new subscribers, cancelling service requires an online chat session.

I confirmed this myself by creating a new DirecTV Stream account and immediately attempting to cancel. The representative, Kevin, asked for an explanation, and when I said that I didn't want the service, he asked for more specifics. When I reiterated that I just wasn't interested, he relented, but still made me type in my email address and mailing address to confirm the cancellation. While the interaction didn't take long, it was a hassle compared to other streaming services.

Some customers will instead have to cancel by phone, but what exactly triggers this requirement is unclear. Ammazzalorso said it applies to customers who signed up in an AT&T store, but I've heard from one customer who signed up online and still received a phone number to call instead of an online chat option.

Ammazzalorso also gave me a different number for customers to call (800-288-2020) than the one DirecTV lists in its menu system (800-531-5000), with the former going to an AT&T system instead of a DirecTV one. But either way, you'll have to wade through an automated answering system to reach a representative, who will then ask for an explanation before letting you cancel.

directvstreamcancel Jared Newman / IDG

In some cases, DirecTV Stream only provides a phone number to call when you try to cancel online.

Keep in mind that these two cancellation methods are not interchangeable, according to Ammazzalorso. You can't call customer service if you're supposed to cancel via online chat, nor can you use the chat if you're supposed to cancel by phone. To see which method you're meant to use, you'll have to swing through DirecTV's account management website first.

The online exceptions

DirecTV does still offer simple online cancellation online without speaking to a representative, mainly in places where it's required to do so.

In 2018, California began mandating online cancellation options for all services that accept online sign-ups. And last year, New York passed a law that requires all subscription services to offer a "cost-effective, timely, and easy-to-use mechanism for cancellation." In both states, clicking "Cancel my subscription" on DirecTV's account management website leads to a prompt with a big blue "Cancel Now" button.

dtvcancelbutton Jared Newman / IDG

DirecTV Stream offers easier cancellation New York and California thanks to tougher state laws for subscription services.

DirecTV also offers this option to some customers who subscribed to legacy DirecTV Now and AT&T TV Now plans, regardless of where they live. But even this exception appears to have exceptions. After asking readers of my Cord Cutter Weekly newsletter about their cancellation options, I heard from one subscriber who said he subscribed to DirecTV Now in mid-2018 but could only cancel via an online chat.

In other words, the whole situation is a mess, and even those who work for DirecTV don't seem to have a clear handle on it. And while DirecTV has the technical capability to make cancellation easy, it chooses to make the process harder because it can.

Clawing for subscribers

DirecTV's tactics echo those of some cable companies that have also dipped their toes into streaming. Spectrum, for instance, offers more flexible TV bundles to cord cutters who still pay for the company's internet service. But once you've signed up, you can't cancel without a call to customer service, in which you might have to sit through a cellphone service sales pitch first.

Like most other legacy TV providers, DirecTV's subscriber base is in a freefall, and while the company speaks of a "new era" and a "bright future" as it spins off from AT&T, it's yet to become any more competitive than it was before. DirecTV Stream's starting price of $70 per month is higher than YouTube TV, Hulu + Live TV, and Fubo TV, which all start at $65 per month, and it offers fewer channels than those alternatives. Unless you need regional Bally Sports channels, which DirecTV Stream carries in its $85/month package, there's no strong reason to pick the service over cheaper alternatives.

In lieu of offering a more competitive service, making cancellation harder is one way to slow the bleeding. But if the continual decline of cable and satellite TV has taught us anything, it's a tactic that doesn't work forever.

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