News and Analysis

DIRECTV Now suffered its fourth major outage on Friday. But in losing its signal, AT&T’s new error-riddled live streaming service may have lost the media as well.

The telco launched DIRECTV Now with much fanfare on November 30, alluding that it would one day replace the company’s satellite edition of DIRECTV, which has built a subscriber base of more than 20 million over more than two decades.

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Many journalists dutifully reported AT&T’s high aspirations in the first few weeks of service, but they have slowly come to realize that DIRECTV Now has been the equivalent of launching a boat with holes in the hull.

In addition to the four major outages (four that we know of; there could be more), DIRECTV Now subscribers are frequently met with error codes when they try to watch a channel. That is, if they are permitted to log on. DIRECTV Now has had issues with that, too.

Thanks to the latest outage, the media yesterday found reason to empty its chamber on the new streaming service.

The New York Post published an article calling DIRECTV Now a “total disaster,” noting that the service has been “plagued with bugs and random outages and sudden crashes, and this is after it’s been up and running for six weeks. Coaxing it to work is like being a cowboy whipping an old mule in a 1940s Western.”

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BGR news wrote a scathing report on the service under the headline, “DIRECTV Now Is Broken.’

The Verge did likewise but its rip-you-a-new-one headline was, “DIRECTV Now appears to be a complete mess.”

Variety and the Wall Street Journal joined in with stories about the latest outage and several publications including Fierce Cable noted that Sling TV CEO Roger Lynch started tweeting invitations to unhappy DIRECTV Now customers to join their live streaming service. (To be fair, Sling TV has had a number of technical issues since its January 2015 launch, although the service has improved in recent months.)

The media gang-up on DIRECTV Now is even more damning when you consider that journalists are generally sympathetic to new streaming services which promise to disrupt the traditional pay TV industry. But they can no longer support a product that seems so defective that it should include a consumer warning.

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At this point, it will be difficult for DIRECTV Now to generate positive press, which will hurt its subscription efforts. And if the service doesn’t fix the bugs soon, all the positive press in the world ultimately wouldn’t matter anyway. People will try DIRECTV Now and dump it as soon as possible.

I was an early critic of DIRECTV Now, noting the early outages and errors. (And I have been vigilant to the problems facing the live streaming industry which is simply not ready for primetime because of recurring technical issues.)

But even I am amazed that DIRECTV Now is still having such serious issues. I thought it would have ironed out the basic kinks by now and would only be afflicted with the usual live streaming snafus, such as buffering during highly-watched shows and sporting events.

The fact that DIRECTV Now is still sinking after six weeks has to be scaring the AT&T executives to death, although their official line is that all is well.

If the situation doesn’t improve soon — and I mean real soon — I have to think that AT&T will seriously consider suspending the service until it can fix the errors. All the errors.

By continuing to offer such a buggy service, AT&T is not only aliening DIRECTV Now’s customers, but it’s putting a big dent in the brand of DIRECTV, which has been built up over more than two decades.

AT&T doesn’t want to focus so hard on the future that it loses sight of the present and the past.

— Phillip Swann