DirecTV Now signs Fox deal, but broadcast network handling remains unclear

DirecTV rooftop satellite dish
DirecTV Now has signed a broad-reaching digital deal with 21st Century Fox.

DirecTV Now has secured one of the final two major programming linchpins, ahead of its impending launch, with the virtual pay-TV service signing a broad-reaching digital deal with 21st Century Fox.

The agreement covers Fox News and Fox Business Channel, the FX family of networks, Fox Sports 1 & 2, National Geographic and Nat Geo Wild, the Big Ten Network, and 18 Fox-branded regional sports networks. 

What isn’t clear: How will parent company AT&T handle broadcast networks during the initial phase of the IP-based platform’s launch? 

In its announcement of the deal, AT&T said it has “agreed on a framework for FOX Broadcasting Company programming to be delivered to DirecTV Now customers nationwide.”

RELATED: AT&T sets DirecTV Now launch party for Nov. 28 in NYC

Does this mean FOX programming will only be available, at least at launch, in markets where 21st Century Fox owns and operates its own stations? Do the same rules apply to Comcast/NBCUniversal’s NBC and Disney’s ABC? 

And will the Big Four networks even be handled in the same way?

Notably, when AT&T announced its programming deal with NBCU in September, it said, “Through the agreement, AT&T DirecTV and U-Verse customers will continue to have access to NBCUniversal broadcast and cable networks live and on-demand through linear TV, online, and TV Everywhere apps.”

AT&T reps have yet to respond to FierceCable’s inquiry for comment and insight. 

AT&T announced last week that it will hold an invite-only launch party on Nov. 28 in New York City for DirecTV Now, which will live-stream more than 100 channels at a disruptive price point of $35 a month. 

AT&T has signed almost every major programming conglomerate onto the platform and several smaller network groups as well. Also on Monday, Byron Allen’s Entertainment Studios announced that its niche channels will be available on DirecTV Now.

But what about those Big Four broadcasters?

RELATED: DirecTV Now launch operative Tony Goncalves: No worries about cannibalization here

Delivering a comprehensive, nationwide feed of the major broadcasters has proven the hardest nut to crack for live-streamed pay TV, with myriad deals needing to be made with the various station owners controlling network affiliates. 

CBS All Access, for example, launched in fall of 2014, but it took through the summer of 2015 before it had even 75% of CBS stations signed up to participate in the service. Apple, meanwhile, notoriously abandoned plans for a virtual pay-TV service last year when its ambitious quest to lock up the complex web of Big Four affiliates fell short.