AT&T’s DirecTV Now draws a mix of fire, support from analysts and users

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AT&T’s DirecTV Now clearly has not lived up to the hype as consumer frustration has risen due to billing and authentication issues, but analysts remain divided on its utility. 

According to a report in the The Verge, there are over 200 active forum threads on AT&T’s website complaining about DirecTV Now technical issues. 

However, the service’s performance is drawing varied responses from AT&T, users as well analysts who cover the online video market segment.

Dan Rayburn, EVP of Streaming Media.com and principal analyst for Frost & Sullivan, told FierceOnlineVideo that AT&T hastily pushed out before it was actually ready for prime time.

“You can’t come out to the market and make a such a big declaration about how the service is going to be, use words like quality, talk about how it’s a game changer, and how it’s going to revolutionize video,” Rayburn said. “If you came to market and said this is beta, you can set expectations properly.”

RELATED: DirecTV Now subscriber momentum holding despite tech challenges, UBS analyst says

For its own part, AT&T has defended its launch as nothing more than growing pains that come with launching a new service.

“With any new technology there are going to be fixes that need to be made,” AT&T said in a statement provided to Tech Crunch. “While we understand we still have work to do, overall feedback on DIRECTV NOW has been very positive. We’re continuously updating the app to provide a better experience for customers. We encourage customer to keep the app updated.”

A lot of the problems with the AT&T DirecTV Now service can be traced to the telco’s purchase of Quickplay Media. AT&T acquired Quickplay Media last July in a deal that gave the telco additional over-the-top (OTT) video and TV Everywhere service capabilities.

“Quickplay is the backend infrastructure that’s running all of this and Quickplay had a lot of issues when AT&T acquired them,” Rayburn said. “They did not have enough time to solve those issues and integrate with the other AT&T technologies to roll out a service where you’re charging consumers and you’re not calling it beta.”

Rayburn added that AT&T has not properly set up the elements set up to deliver the service on a wide scale.

“There’s a huge amount of APIs involved in a system like this that call back to all kinds of additional pieces of technology in the ecosystem,” Rayburn said. “They just don’t have those pieces set up and they clearly did not test them at scale.”

Billing, authentication issues spike

Authentication has been a key issue that has been plaguing many users trying to access the new service.

A number of users have complained on AT&T’s DirecTV Now forums that they could not log in or were getting error messages saying they were trying to watch the service on more than two devices when actually they were only using one. 

One user said in AT&T’s User Forum that “it is very annoying to have to keep logging in while trying to watch something.”

Besides having issues with authentication, users are also having problems with billing and authentication for DirecTV Now.

Despite subscribers having issues with the service, AT&T is not willing to provide unsatisfied customers a refund.

One user was told that by AT&T that “we do not currently have a policy in place to offer any refunds.”

Meanwhile, Austin Federa who chronicled his experience on Twitter was told by an AT&T representative that they did not have the option in their system to give him a refund.

“Billing is a whole separate issue,” Rayburn said. “I got billed to my credit card even though I cancelled the service and they had to call me and I had to e-mail them and despite having a support site set up they don’t respond to anything.”

Making matters worse, AT&T has confused the market with its pricing regime. Initially, the service provider said it would of 100 channels for $35, but it later added that offer is only good for customers who sign up when the service becomes available.

Besides paying $60 a month, the DirecTV Now service does not support Microsoft's Xbox and Sony's Play Station 4.

“The service is not available on Play Station 4 or X Box, which are the two most widely connected devices in the living room,” Rayburn said.

UBS report says otherwise

Not everyone agrees that AT&T’s DirectTV Now service is all that bad.

John Hodulik, a UBS analyst, said in a new research note that DirecTV Now is faring better than its OTT competitors, trailing only HBO Go.

UBS’ report emerges amidst a flurry of negative reports about the streaming performance of the service.

Despite the issues users have seen with DirecTV Now, UBS said that DirecTV Now still ranked 41st among all other entertainment apps in terms of iPad downloads. According to the research firm, AT&T’s DirecTV Now had a lead over v-MVPD service Sling TV, who was ranked No. 47.