AT&T exec on DirecTV Now launch: Not as many problems as expected

AT&T's DirecTV Now service currently supports a range of devices.

LAS VEGAS—Although AT&T struggled through a range of problems during its launch of its DirecTV Now service late last year, including complaints of inaccessible services and problems logging in, the overall introduction of the service went more smoothly than Enrique Rodriguez expected.

“Absolutely there were problems … the problems were not as big as I expected,” said Rodriguez, AT&T Entertainment's CTO and the executive in charge of the technical aspects of the carrier’s newly launched DirecTV Now video streaming service. “I’m so proud of the quality we delivered.”

AT&T’s DirecTV Now service launched in late November, and shortly after the launch some analysts and users took to Twitter to note problems with the service—prompting a number of responses from AT&T’s @DIRECTVNowHelp Twitter account. DirecTV Now streams dozens of TV channels over the public internet and AT&T offers a number of packages and pricing tiers for the service, though the company is ending its $35-per-month introductory price on Jan. 9.

In an interview here on the sidelines of the Consumer Electronics Show, Rodriguez said AT&T worked for months to prepare its systems to handle the launch of DirecTV Now. He said the company specifically worked to own and operate as much of the distribution system as possible—he pointed to the company’s acquisition of QuickPlay earlier this year as an example of AT&T’s desire to own the technology that would distribute DirecTV Now’s services.

“We have to understand what each piece [of the distribution chain] is doing and how they interact with each other,” Rodriguez said.

Now, though, Rodriguez is looking toward 2017 with the goal of improving DirecTV Now’s quality and device lineup, and introducing DVR services.

On quality, Rodriguez said that he hopes “4K is the last K.” He explained that DirecTV Now will continually work to improve the quality of its service, and then said the video industry’s focus on set quality upgrades—like the transition to 4K—ultimately holds the industry back because each customer must independently upgrade their video equipment. Instead, he said that in the online world improvements are made incrementally and are largely invisible to the user, a situation he said DirecTV Now would take advantage of.

As for devices, Rodriguez said DirecTV Now in 2017 would work to expand the number of devices that can access its services. He said the company would initially target the most popular video streaming devices on the market, though he declined to name any devices that the company is hoping to support. “You want to be in a position where no device is left behind,” he said. DirecTV Now currently supports devices including the Apple TV, Android phones and other devices.

He added that AT&T employs hundreds of people who are working to support current devices and add new ones. “These are non-trivial apps,” he said.

Finally, on a DVR functionality: Rodriguez said the company is working on that capability but didn’t provide any details.