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Coach potatoes of the world, unite. Good morning, Aaron in for Adam on this Thursday, pondering the future of television.
For about the past six months, I’ve been getting my TV fix in a new way, via AT&T’s DirecTV Now service. For only $35 a month, I can watch dozens of cable channels plus HBO and all of my local stations (except puzzlingly PBS, but more on that in a second). There’s no cable box for DirecTV Now–it arrives over the Internet. Just like Netflix (NFLX) or Hulu, you watch via an app on a Roku, Amazon Fire, or Apple TV, which I’m using, connected to your TV set.
The picture quality is just as good as cable and browsing the channel guide on my TV is as easy as pressing the menu button on the Apple TV’s remote and swiping my finger to run through the listings. Many shows are available on demand, so you can click in the guide to watch things that already aired. I didn’t experience any of the technical glitches that hurt the service early on. And DVR capability is coming soon, too.
DirecTV and its competitors, including Google’s (GOOGL) YouTube TV and Dish Network’s (DISH) Sling TV, sure seem like a better deal than cable. The cost is lower, the apps are capable, and the interactive channel guide is great. That’s probably why cord cutting is accelerating. Only 77% of homes with Internet connections subscribed to cable or satellite TV last year, down from 81% in 2016, according to surveys by the research firm Parks Associates.
Still, it’s not a perfect world. My DirecTV Now package includes the local sports network that carries my beloved Celtics basketball games, but not the one with the Red Sox games. And in addition to no public television outlets, all of the local cable content related to my town is missing. PBS has its own app for the Apple TV, complete with content from my local station, so I’m not really missing out. And I can catch up on those zoning board meetings on the web, if I want.
The big question is whether I’ll continue saving so much money over cable. Analysts say AT&T (T) and its peers are losing a ton of money on the Internet TV services, which are priced to attract budget-conscious cord cutters rather than to make a profit for the providers.
That situation can’t last forever. But until something changes, it’s a pretty sweet deal.