News and Analysis
DIRECTV Now, the live streaming service owned by AT&T, celebrates its first birthday today with a mixed record for technical performance and marketing success.

The streamer debuted on November 30, 2016 and the first two weeks were marred with frequent technical errors that made watching nearly impossible. Viewers complained (loudly) of everything from picture freezing to login issues to total system outages.

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Over the 12 months, the technical aspects have gradually improved, although DIRECTV Now is still susceptible to occasional buffering, particularly during a show that is watched by a relatively large number of people. (This, of course, is not uncommon with all live streaming services.)

While DIRECTV Now’s picture quality and reliability falls short compared to DIRECTV, the satellite service, the recent progress offers hope that the service’s worst times are behind it.

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On the marketing side, AT&T says DIRECTV Now has roughly 900,000 paying subscribers now, which is no small achievement for any first-year TV service, particularly one in a new category (multi-channel live streaming). The telco has offered a number of incentives to attract new customers and retain current ones such as the current promotion that slashes $25 off the first month of service.

Note: That promotion was launched to celebrate DIRECTV Now’s first birthday and it’s expected to expire starting tomorrow.

DIRECTV Now has also benefited from the brand awareness of its sister service, DIRECTV, which has been a pay TV leader for more than two decades. Due to various technical limitations, many consumers have been unable to subscribe to DIRECTV over the years; the option to now sign up via streaming has been a significant boost to the company’s subscription efforts.

The live streaming industry has built a small but growing following since DIRECTV Now’s debut a year ago. Analysts estimate that rival Sling TV could have as many as two million paying customers while PlayStation Vue, Hulu Live, FuboTV and YouTube TV are marketing aggressively as well.

It remains to be seen if current subscribers will continue to shelve their concerns over live streaming’s technical performance (and lineup holes). At some point, if the technical snafus don’t stop, they might start switching back to traditional pay TV services, or not subscribe to any service at all.

But it’s equally possible that new technologies — and more program acquisitions — will improve both the technical and content performance of DIRECTV Now and other live streaming services.

After one year, DIRECTV Now, and its rivals, have come to a crossroads. Will they continue to grow? Or, have they already peaked, and next year this time, we will be talking about the slow decline of the live streaming service?

Stay tuned.

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— Phillip Swann