TV Answer Man, I tried watching the game last night on the NFL Network on my DIRECTV Stream and it wasn’t available because DIRECTV Stream doesn’t carry the NFL Network! Why is that? Doesn’t make any sense! — George, St. Paul, Minnesota.

George, you’re right. The NFL Network last night aired the surprisingly exciting matchup between the New York Giants and the Washington Football Team which was won by Washington, 30-29, after a wild fourth quarter.

However, for DIRECTV Stream subscribers, it was not available. Despite carrying nearly all regional sports channels, which is a rarity in the live streaming category, DIRECTV Stream does not carry the NFL’s official channel which also happens to be home to Thursday night regular season games.

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This was not always the case. The NFL Network omission traces back to April 2019 when DIRECTV Stream was called DIRECTV Now and AT&T was the streamer’s sole owner. AT&T then was unable to secure a new carriage agreement with the NFL for the NFL Network or the NFL RedZone Channel, although it did so for DIRECTV, the satellite TV service. (DIRECTV still carries the NFL Network, and has a RedZone Channel.)

“The NFL Network and Red Zone Channel remain available to all fans on DIRECTV,” AT&T said in a statement then. “However, as we continue to manage content costs, we could not reach an agreement with the NFL to continue to carry their channels on U-verse TV and DirecTV Now.”

At the time, AT&T was desperately seeking a way to make Directv Now (name changed later to AT&T TV, and then again last month to DIRECTV Stream) financially viable. After the company was forced to raise prices to meet the rising cost of acquiring programming, subscribers began fleeing the service in droves. DIRECTV Now, which once had nearly two million subs, fell under one million.

So AT&T concluded that it could no longer justify carrying the NFL Network, which has relatively high carriage fees compared to some other channels.

AT&T was also uncertain if it would continue offering the NFL Sunday Ticket with the league considering employing an opt-out clause that would permit it to sell the rights to another company. The NFL ultimately decided not to go with the opt-out, but it was a contentious time between AT&T and the league.

But now two years later, DIRECTV Stream is part of a separate company jointly owned by AT&T and the private equity firm, TPG. (The company also includes U-verse and DIRECTV’s satellite TV service.) The new DIRECTV management team is busily assessing its next moves, including whether to bid for the next Sunday Ticket contract after the current one expires following the 2022 season. The league is hoping to wrap up negotiations for the next agreement by February 2022, according to a CNBC report.

Consequently, I suspect that we won’t see DIRECTV Stream resume carrying the NFL Network until DIRECTV determines how to proceed with the Sunday Ticket. The NFL Network carriage would likely be part of an overall strategy rather than negotiated separately.

What would that mean for football fans in 2021? You probably won’t see the NFL Network on DIRECTV Stream this season.

Sorry I can’t be more hopeful, George. But maybe next year.

Until then, happy viewing, and stay safe!

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— Phillip Swann