DirecTV Now set to launch Wednesday; base package will deliver only 60+ channels for $35 a month

AT&T's John Stankey speaks at the launch announcement of DirecTV Now on Nov. 28, 2016. Image: AT&T/YouTube

AT&T finally unveiled its highly anticipated virtual pay-TV platform, DirecTV Now, showcasing four programming tiers, starting with a $35-a-month bundle of around 60 channels, that will launch Wednesday.

“I’ve never seen as much paper move in as little time,” said John Stankey, CEO of the AT&T Entertainment Group, describing the flurry of programming deals the company had to quickly carve out to launch the service, while speaking at AT&T’s launch event for the service Monday afternoon in New York City. 

AT&T said it is targeting the product to the roughly 20 million U.S. homes that have broadband but not pay TV. “Neither AT&T or DirecTV is particularly good in targeting areas like MDUs,” he added, noting that the over-the-top platform will also be able to reach consumers who can’t point a satellite dish at the southern sky, or simply can’t pass a credit check. AT&T said the latter descriptions apply to a market of as many as 6 million consumers. 

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Launching with a marketing theme “Let freedom stream,” AT&T is billing DirecTV Now as a “mobile first” platform that reaches into the living room, able to play on iOS and Android devices, as well as virtually any streaming device. The only notable compatibility void is Roku, and AT&T said the service will be extended to include Roku devices within the next “two to three weeks.”

RELATED: DirecTV Now sets launch, will support two concurrent streams

Stankey described the platform as only the beginning “iteration.” 

“Because it’s a software-based product, there will be more to be done on this,” he said. 

DirecTV Now launches with a bit of pricing curveball. In the run-up to its debut, analysts and video pundits head-scratched over how AT&T would bundle more than channels—include highly priced networks like ESPN—into a $35-a-month package, which the company said it would do.

Well, the 100-plus channel package is actually DirecTV’s third-level tier, which it calls “Go Big,” and it’s regularly priced at $60 a month. AT&T is actually discounting this tier to $35 a month for an unspecified amount of time. 

Thirty-five dollars a month will only get subscribers around 60 channels. AT&T hasn’t disclosed channel lineups yet, but did say the “Live a Little” base package doesn’t include sports networks like ESPN. 

The second-level tier is called “Just Right,” and it offers over 80 channels at $50 a month. The primo package, “Gotta Have It,” includes more than 120 networks and is priced at a traditional-bundle-like $70 a month.

Notable: DirecTV Now users will be able to add premium channels at an industry-low $5 a month each. 

Notably excluded, meanwhile, was a content deal with CBS Corp., which not only leaves the Tiffany Network of the program guide, but Showtime, as well. DirecTV Now will also launch without a cloud DVR -- the service will be added sometime in the next year, AT&T said. 

Other limitations: Reach for broadcast channels will be initially confined to markets in which the FOX, NBC and ABC own their own stations. Also, as previously reported, the service will allow only two streams into the home at once. 

AT&T did confirm that it will zero rate DirecTV Now, meaning usage won't count against wireless data caps for AT&T mobile subscribers. 

Also at Monday’s presser, AT&T unveiled numerous original content plays for DirecTV Now, which will include programming from Fullscreen, owned by AT&T joint venture partner Peter Chernin.

Actress-producer Reese Witherspoon also appeared on stage to tout her new production company, Hello Sunshine, which will be producing original content for the platform.

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