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DirecTV Now to launch cheaper service, rolls out cloud DVR

The DirecTV Now button on an iPhone 6. (Photo: Matthew Keys/The Desk)

DirecTV Now, the online streaming television service owned by AT&T, announced on Tuesday it will offer a budget service that contains some major cable networks.

The service, which AT&T will call “WatchTV,” will cost $15 a month but will not offer sports programming or local broadcast channels. Some qualifying customers of AT&T’s wireless phone service will be able to subscribe to WatchTV for free. AT&T says the service will be offered if the company’s acquisition of Time Warner goes through; that deal has faced significant regulatory scrutiny and opposition from President Donald Trump and members of his administration.

Once introduced, the new WatchTV service would significantly undercut many of its streaming TV competitors. Sling TV, owned by Dish Network, offers sports programming from Disney-owned ESPN and others for $20 a month. Philo TV costs just $16 a month but excludes many networks — including ESPN and channels owned by Turner and Fox — that generally or sometimes carry sports programming. AT&T did not say which networks would be offered by WatchTV, but it would likely contain channels that offer lifestyle and general entertainment programming similar to Philo TV.

Currently, DirecTV’s basic package costs $35 a month and contains major sports networks and local channels in some parts of the country. The service costs $40 a month with HBO, which puts it on par with similar offerings by Hulu and Alphabet-owned YouTube TV.

AT&T also announced an upcoming third streaming service that it said would compete mainly with traditional linear cable services like Comcast and Verizon Fios. AT&T said the third service, which has yet to be named, would be streamed over the Internet for in-home television watching. It wasn’t immediately clear how the third service would differentiate itself from DirecTV Now, which already streams over the Internet, and AT&T U-Verse, which streams video over a dedicated fiber-optic Internet connection.

New changes were also announced for current and new DirecTV Now customers. A cloud DVR function that had been quietly tested by a small subset of its users finally rolled out to all subscribers. The feature allows users to record TV shows and movies as they air on channels for viewing at a later time. AT&T said DirecTV Now customers would get 20 hours of free storage and the ability to save recordings for 30 days. The amount of free storage is smaller than some of AT&T’s competitors, including YouTube TV, which offers unlimited cloud storage space and the ability to save recordings for a much-longer amount of time.

Other changes included an upgraded user interface and the ability to add additional simultaneous streams for an extra monthly charge.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly named the company AT&T was attempting to acquire. It is Time Warner, which operates cable networks like CNN and TNT, not Time Warner Cable, which merged with Charter Communications in 2016 and has since rebranded as Spectrum in most markets. 

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 11 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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