By Phillip Swann
The TV Answer Man –@tvanswerman

TV Answer Man, I know that DIRECTV has lost subscribers the last few years but why did it confuse everyone with this new satellite/streaming plan with the new box and no DIRECTV Stream brand and new prices and so on? What on earth are they thinking? Isn’t it a bit much? — Mark, Dayton, Ohio.

DIRECTV last week unveiled a new marketing strategy that includes a two-year price guarantee for both satellite and streaming customers, eliminates (or at least downplays) the DIRECTV Stream brand for new customers, and introduces a new set-top called Gemini. The company will now refer to both its satellite service and its streaming service in marketing programs as DIRECTV rather than DIRECTV and DIRECTV Stream. (This come after the streaming service already had two previous names, DIRECTV Now and AT&T Now, during its seven-year existence.)

But while the company is now trying to put everything under the DIRECTV banner instead of having two separate brands, you can still subscribe to the old DIRECTV Stream service — if you use your own streaming device instead of the new Gemini set-top. And apparently, the company has created some unintended benefits for doing this, as the TV Answer Man reported last week.

If you want consumers to take one action, you probably shouldn’t encourage them to take a different one by making it cheaper to do so.

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Many DIRECTV subscribers, and potential subscribers, seem confused by why the company has taken this step. The TV Answer Man has received roughly 15-20 e-mails from puzzled readers asking everything from whether the Gemini has the same features as the old receiver to whether you can still get streaming from DIRECTV to why on Earth the company has made all these changes.

Today, I will attempt to answer the last question: Why did DIRECTV do this?

DIRECTV’s TV services (satellite, streaming and U-verse) have most more than 12 million subscribers since AT&T purchased the satellite company in 2015, according to financial reports. That’s nearly 50 percent of the subscriber base from eight years ago. And the losses are not slowing. Thanks to cord-cutting and other factors, DIRECTV’s customers continue to find new ways to watch television that does not involve a dish.

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DIRECTV Stream (yes, formerly known as DIRECTV Now and AT&T Now) was created to stem the tide, but the streaming service has floundered in recent years due to rising prices and increased competition from other live streamers such as YouTube TV and Hulu Live.

The company knows it needs something different and that’s where Gemini comes in.

Gemini, a wireless set-top, includes the basic features (apps such as Netflix and Prime Video, voice-activated remote) found on most streaming devices such as Roku, Fire TV and Apple TV, as well as some different ones such as integrating the apps with live channels. The new box replaces DIRECTV Stream’s old AT&T-supplied set-top which generated mixed reviews over the years and was never seen as replacement for the Rokus of the world.

But DIRECTV is hoping that consumers will see Gemini as something so valuable that they will become more loyal to the company – and more likely to pay added fees (such as a $15 a month advanced receiver fee) to get it. The company’s live streaming rivals do not have their own set-tops; they expect consumers to use their own. By launching the shiny new Gemini to consumers, DIRECTV hopes that it will give it a competitive edge in the marketplace.

In addition, if Gemini proves to be a success, it should reduce churn in the streaming audience, a major worry of all live streamers. Subscribers will be less likely to cancel service because they want to use the Gemini. And, again, they will be more likely to pay for the privilege by agreeing to the added fees.

So it’s all about Gemini and, to a lesser extent, trying to reduce confusion in the marketplace over branding. By having one brand — DIRECTV — there may eventually be fewer questions over where to turn for TV service. You come to DIRECTV to get streaming or satellite, not two separate entities called DIRECTV and DIRECTV Stream.

Only time will tell whether this works. But, Mark, there is a method to DIRECTV’s madness.

Happy viewing and stay safe!

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— Phillip Swann