DirecTV Now’s strengths have allowed it to quickly recruit an impressive amount of subscribers in a short period of time. At the end of 2017, DirecTV Now announced that it had surpassed the one million subscriber mark.

Before you decide whether or not to by a DirecTV Now subscription, continue on to read a detailed analysis of DirecTV Now and an overview of DirecTV Now’s biggest competitors.

DirecTV Now Analysis

DirecTV Now streaming TV
Source: DirecTV Now

Telecom giant AT&T arrived to the party late when it kicked off DirecTV Now at the end of 2016. At the time, Dish Networks had already launched Sling TV and Sony had already debuted PlayStation Vue.

As a result of AT&T’s influence and leverage, DirecTV Now was equipped with a very competitive menu of cable TV channels from the get-go.

Because AT&T already broadcasts many cable channels via its satellite service DirecTV and through U-verse, it was probably not hard for AT&T to secure agreements to stream many of those same channels online.

The most impressive thing about DirecTV Now is its large menu of channels. Even though DirecTV Now lacks DVR functionality and other key features, the fact that it has more channels than anyone else gives DirecTV Now a distinct edge over the competition. You can buy up to 120+ channels through DirecTV Now.

Additionally, DirecTV Now has better promotional deals than any other skinny bundle provider. Because DirecTV Now is owned by AT&T, it can afford to use aggressive discounts to drive subscription sales. AT&T Unlimited subscribers get $15 off any plan when they sign up for any DirecTV Now. Additionally, new customers willing to pay for 4 months of DirecTV Now service in advance can get a free Apple TV 4K.

DirecTV Now expansion could represent the end of U-verse

AT&T is likely hoping that DirecTV Now will replace its struggling TV/DSL service, U-verse.

U-verse was revolutionary when it first came out in 2005 because it allowed AT&T to bundle cable TV and high speed internet services together in a single, affordable package. However, U-verse’s aging infrastructure is slow by modern standards. It’s also expensive for AT&T to install and maintain.

In an interview with AdAge, CreditSights analyst Chris Uko explained the main reason why AT&T’s U-verse stalled after it reached 6 million subscribers.

“I don’t think it worked really well to deliver high-end broadband and video over copper lines.”

Though U-verse is still up and running, AT&T stopped manufacturing new U-verse set-top boxes at the beginning of 2016.

DirecTV Now pros and cons

AT&T read the writing on the wall and bought satellite TV provider DirecTV in 2015. It took AT&T about a year to debut DirecTV’s internet-powered equivalent, DirecTV Now.

DirecTV Now still seems rushed a year later. A 100-hour DVR is in development, but still hasn’t been officially released. Over the holidays, sporadic outages motivated DirecTV Now subscribers to voice their complaints on Twitter. Additionally, app support for DirecTV Now is still weak compared to the competition.

However, if AT&T keeps all its 2018 resolutions, DirecTV Now will be in a very competitive position by the end of the year. In coming months, DirecTV Now will release a cloud DVR feature, add 35,000 titles to its on-demand library and upgrade some of its channels to 4K.

Plans and channels

  • Live a Little: 60+ channels / $35 per month.
  • Just Right: 80+ channels / $50 per month.
  • Go Big: 100+ channels / $60 per month.
  • Gotta Have It: 120+ channels / $70 per month.

Features

Though you can’t record anything on DirecTV Now yet, AT&T’s streaming service does have a feature that works a bit like a DVR called “72 Hour Rewind.” Roughly 40 DirecTV Now channels let you watch an on-demand version of a show up to 3 days after it airs. However, DirecTV Now’s 70 other channels are not 72 Hour Rewind compatible.

Another key benefit of DirecTV Now is that it works with many TV Everywhere apps. An impressive 53 different cable TV brands will let you unlock their apps and websites with DirecTV Now credentials. ESPN, The Olympic Channel, BBC America and Disney are just some of the networks that let DirecTV Now subscribers get exclusive content.

  • Living room devices: Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast and Roku.
  • Smart TVs and Blu-ray players: None.
  • Mobile devices and tablets: Android and iOS.
  • Game consoles: None.
  • Desktop browsers: Chrome and Safari.

Sling TV

Source: Sling TV

Because Sling TV was able to stick its flag in the sand first, it has more than twice as many subscribers as DirecTV Now. Analysts say Sling TV surpassed the 2 million subscriber mark in July of 2017.

When Sling TV went live in 2015, it didn’t have many channels and it only had a handful of apps. Even though Sling TV has added to its menu over the past few years, its misleading subscription structure has remained intact.

Deceptive marketing tricks

Because Webster’s Dictionary defines “a la carte” as “a menu or list that prices items separately,” Sling TV’s marketing slogan may lead you to believe that you can pick and choose the individual cable channels you want to add to your Sling TV subscription. But that’s not how Sling TV works at all.

Though Sling TV does sell plenty of different add-on channel bundles, Sling TV doesn’t let you design your own custom channel lineup.

Plans and channels

In order to get Sling TV, you have to buy at least one base plan: Sling Orange or Sling Blue.

Both base plans seem to be designed to nudge various demographics into buying the $40 Orange+Blue combo plan.

  • Orange: 30 channels for $20 per month.
  • Blue: 45 channels for $25 per month.
  • Orange+Blue: 53 channels for $40 per month.

Sling TV’s 34 add-on subscription plans give you the option to tack on additional channels bundles. The Sports Extra, for example, adds another 14 sports channels.

Though Sling TV does have some TV Everywhere partners, it doesn’t have nearly as many as DirecTV Now. Sling TV credentials unlock premium content on only 17 cable channel apps. DirecTV Now has 53 different TV Everywhere partners.

Features

Sling TV has far more apps compared to DirecTV now.

  • Living room devices: Air TV Player, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, Chromecast and Roku.
  • Smart TVs and Blu-ray players: Certain models from LeEco, LG, Samsung and ZTE.
  • Mobile devices and tablets: Amazon Fire tablets, Android and iOS.
  • Game consoles: Xbox One.
  • Desktop browsers: Chrome.

Sling TV is the only streaming service that makes you pay extra to unlock its DVR — but at least it has one. For an additional $5 per month, you can record up to fifty hours of programming.

Versus DirecTV Now

At first glance, Sling TV is all deceptive marketing sizzle and no steak. But if you can get past the shady marketing tactics, you’ll find that Sling TV does have one key advantage over DirecTV that will help it remain competitive going forward: lower prices. DirecTV Now’s cheapest plan costs $15 more than Sling TV’s least expensive plan. Still, DirecTV Now offers a much better bang for the buck.

PlayStation Vue

Source: PlayStation Vue

Like Sling TV, PlayStation Vue came out in 2015 — a full year before AT&T bought DirecTV. Nobody is sure how well Vue is actually doing since Sony is tight-lipped about how many Vue subscribers it actually has. In December of 2017, analyst Ben Bajarin estimated that Vue had around 670,000 subscribers.

What’s in a name?

Though the PlayStation Vue brand name may lead you to believe that it only works on PlayStation consoles, this is no longer the case. When PlayStation Vue first came out, only PlayStation console owners in key markets could sign up. Now, anyone can join. Still, unless PlayStation Vue removes the PlayStation from its name, most consumers will continue to assume that it’s only for people who own PlayStation consoles.

Plans and channels

Another issue with PlayStation Vue is that it’s expensive. Prices start at $40, and the base PlayStation Vue subscription only has 45 channels.

  • Access: 45 channels for $40 per month.
  • Core: 60 channels for $45 per month.
  • Elite: 84 channels for $55 per month.
  • Ultra: 87 channels, including HBO and Showtime, for $75 per month.

Features

PlayStation Vue is king of the hill when it comes to features and extras.

Big families will appreciate PlayStation Vue’s flexible simultaneous streaming policy. Up to 5 devices can watch TV at the same time through a single PlayStation Vue account.

Once you have PlayStation Vue credentials, you can unlock over 60 cable channel websites and apps via TV Everywhere. Participating TV Everywhere partners include ABC, FOX, and NBC as well as the NCAA March Madness Live app.

Vue’s cloud DVR is also excellent. It lets you record as many programs as you want and keep them for 28 days. Additionally, Vue has good app support.

  • Living room devices: Apple TV, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast and Roku.
  • Smart TVs and Blu-ray players: Android TV-enabled devices.
  • Mobile devices and tablets: Android, Amazon Fire Tablets and iOS.
  • Game consoles: PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4.
  • Desktop browsers: Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Microsoft Edge.

Versus DirecTV Now

Even with DirecTV Now’s promise to upgrade from 2 to 3 simultaneous streams this year, PlayStation Vue’s support for up to 5 simultaneous streams makes it a better choice for large families. If you don’t intend to share your account, though, DirecTV Now is the better deal because it’s cheaper and has more channels.

YouTube TV

Network TV on Youtube TV
Source: YouTube TV

Even though YouTube is even newer than DirecTV Now, it hasn’t had to experience the same growing pains that DirecTV Now went through after its debut.

The fact that YouTube TV is powered by the great and powerful Google may explain why nobody seems to be complaining about outages, glitches and service disruptions.  Additionally, DVR and all the other next-generation TV features you’d expect were available on YouTube TV at launch.

However, YouTube TV has a long way to go if it wants to catch up with DirecTV Now and Sling TV. According to a recent CNBC report, YouTube TV has only managed to sign up 300,000 subscribers.

YouTube’s audience doesn’t want traditional TV

The fact that the majority of YouTube’s audience is aged 18-24 explains why YouTube TV still has far fewer subscribers compared to DirecTV Now, Sling TV and others.

A 2017 study revealed that the 18-24 age group watches only 2 hours of traditional TV a day. In other words, young people watch 43.6 percent less live TV than they did in 2012.

According to Business Insider, the cause of the decline of live TV in the 18-24-year-old age group could be the rise of on-demand video services like Netflix, Hulu and others.

Plans and channels

YouTube TV only has one subscription: a one-size-fits-all $35 / 50+ channel plan.

YouTube has better local affiliate coverage compared to the competition. Most Americans can get their local ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC stations via YouTube TV.

Features

YouTube TV’s best feature is its excellent DVR. You can record as much content as you want and keep your recordings for up to nine months.

YouTube TV only has around 23 TV Everywhere partners, or about half as many as DirecTV Now. Cable channels with TV Everywhere compatible apps and sites let you watch full episodes, live streams and more.

Device support for YouTube TV is mediocre, due to a lack of Roku, PlayStation and Apple TV support.

  • Living room devices: Android TV (but not the Xiaomi Mi Box) and Chromecast.
  • Smart TVs and Blu-ray players: Certain models from LG and Samsung.
  • Mobile devices and tablets: Android and iOS.
  • Game consoles: Xbox One.
  • Desktop browsers: Chrome.

Versus DirecTV Now

YouTube TV is designed for casual TV fans. If YouTube TV’s small menu of channels meets your needs and you spend a lot of time on YouTube, it makes sense to choose YouTube TV over DirecTV Now. Dedicated couch potatoes, however, will likely prefer DirecTV Now’s much larger menu of channels.

Hulu with Live TV

Hulu live tv
Source: Hulu

Hulu with Live TV and YouTube TV both came out in 2017. But with half a million subscribers according to a recent report, Hulu is doing a bit better than YouTube when it comes to recruiting live TV subscribers.

Hulu with Live TV’s relative success compared to YouTube TV could have something to do with the fact that Hulu users are used to paying for video content. YouTube’s regular visitors, on the other hand, are accustomed to getting all their entertainment for free. Hulu shut down the free section of its site in summer of 2016.

Even though Hulu with Live TV is growing, Hulu is still bleeding money. According to a quarterly report, Hulu lost $550 million between January and September of 2017.

Hulu could turn things around under Disney leadership

Concerns that Hulu could get absorbed into Disney’s upcoming streaming service were raised in December of 2017, when Disney expanded its ownership of Hulu.

But in an interview with Polygon, Disney CEO Bob Iger expressed that his company plans to let Hulu continue along its current trajectory.

“There’s a lot of product that we believe will be of great use to growing Hulu as it already is. Hulu is a more adult-oriented product [that will benefit from] Fox television production and FX.”

Disney’s edgier content — such as content from 20th Century Fox and Marvel — could find a new home on Hulu.

Plans and channels

Like YouTube TV, Hulu with Live TV only has one subscription option. For $40, you get around 60 channels.

Hulu’s biggest advantage over the competition is its video library. A standard Hulu membership is included with every Hulu with Live TV subscription. Hulu’s library shrunk when its deal with CW expired and over 900 Criterion Collection films moved from Hulu to Filmstruck. However, Hulu still has next-day on-demand episodes of many shows and award-winning originals like The Handmaid’s Tale.

You can unlock 33 TV Everywhere apps with Hulu with Live TV, including NBC Sports, Fox Sports and ESPN.

Features

Like PlayStation Vue, Hulu with Live TV has some impressive features. However, Hulu forces you to pay to unlock all the good ones.

Hulu with Live TV’s basic DVR lets you record 50 hours of content. To upgrade to 200 hours, you have to buy a $15 add-on.

Likewise, simultaneous streaming is limited to 2 devices unless you buy the $15 Unlimited Streams upgrade. Unlimited Streams lets you stream to an unlimited number of devices at home and up to 3 devices away from home.

Versus DirecTV Now

With several big upgrades on horizon, DirecTV Now’s future looks bright. Hulu might run into trouble soon, though, if it can’t find a way to turn a profit. Whether or not Disney can turn things around remains to be seen.

Hulu with Live TV’s channel selection is half as big as DirecTV Now’s. And once DirecTV Now adds 35,000 more titles to its library this year, it’ll be fully equipped to go toe-to-toe with Hulu when it comes to on-demand viewing.

Conclusion

Though other skinny bundle services do a better job of catering to specific niche demographics, DirecTV Now looks like the cable replacer with the most potential growth.

DirecTV Now’s key benefit is that it gives cable subscribers the option to cut the cord without having to accept a “TV diet” menu of reduced channel options.

Once DirecTV Now rolls out 4K, expands its on-demand library and releases its long-awaited DVR, it’ll likely continue to experience rapid growth in 2018.