AT&T TV relaunches as DirecTV Stream

(Logo courtesy DirecTV/Graphic by The Desk)

The streaming television services formerly known as AT&T TV and AT&T TV Now have relaunched this week under the new DirecTV Stream brand name.

The relaunch follows an announcement made earlier this year that saw former parent company AT&T divorce itself from its pay television properties, including the satellite DirecTV service and its AT&T U-Verse TV product, in order to better focus on its wireless phone and broadband Internet offerings.

“This is a watershed moment for DirecTV as we return to a singular focus on providing a stellar video experience,” Bill Morrow, the chief executive of DirecTV, said in a statement this week. “Building on our recent momentum, we are well-positioned to bring unparalleled choice and value to all of our customers under one iconic brand, whether they beam it or stream it.”

AT&T acquired DirecTV in 2015 for $67 billion in cash and debt. By marrying millions of DirecTV customers in the United States and Latin America with millions more paying for AT&T’s U-Verse video service, the company touted its position as the largest pay television provider on the planet.

The title came with little else. The gamble wound up costing AT&T more than it was worth as cable and satellite subscribers began ditching those expensive services for cheaper streaming options like Netflix and Hulu.

Several years into its ownership of DirecTV, AT&T attempted to pivot into the world of streaming by launching DirecTV Now, a $35 a month streaming television service that offered access to a few dozen pay television networks from Viacom Corporation (later ViacomCBS), Fox Corporation, the Walt Disney Company and its own WarnerMedia subsidiary.

To beef up its wireless service, the company also launched AT&T Watch TV, which gave phone customers free access to around 30 live television channels franchised from DirecTV Now.

DirecTV Now and AT&T Watch TV saw a significant amount of momentum early on, with both services being heavily discounted — AT&T Watch TV cost non-AT&T phone subscribers $15 a month, while DirecTV Now regularly went on sale for as little as $10 a month.

But the rising cost of programming meant AT&T was forced to implement fee hikes across its product lines. The cheaper Watch TV service was eventually shuddered, and DirecTV Now was soon relaunched under the AT&T brand name with a higher $65 a month price point, putting it in line with competing streaming services from Google (YouTube TV), Disney (Hulu with Live TV) and upstart, sports-centric Fubo TV.

Eventually, AT&T gave up on its video ambitions, spinning off DirecTV and U-Verse TV into a shell company that now bears the DirecTV name. It continues to be majority-owned by AT&T, with investment firm TPG Capital having a 30 percent stake in the venture.

For now, DirecTV Stream keeps in place many of the higher fees for programming that were present on AT&T TV and AT&T TV Now. Its cheapest package, called “Entertainment,” offers 65 high-definition pay TV networks for $70 a month plus tax. Stepping up to the “Choice” package brings regional sports networks and an extended trial of streaming service HBO Max for $85 a month plus tax, while the “Ultimate” package offers more than 130 entertainment, sports and movie channels for $95 a month plus tax. The all-inclusive “Premier” package unlocks HBO Max, Showtime and other premium movie networks at a cost of $140 a month plus tax.

All plans come with a bare-bones 20-hour cloud DVR feature. An “unlimited” cloud DVR perk is available for an extra $10 a month plus tax, though it will only keep a maximum of 30 episodes of a TV program and stores all recordings for a maximum of 90 days.

DirecTV Stream is available to watch on a number of supported streaming television devices like Android TV, Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple iOS devices and Android phones and tablets. Customers who don’t have a streaming device can purchase an Android TV-powered DirecTV Stream box for $120, payable in 24 installments of $5 a month.