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DirecTV Now appears to be a complete mess

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Users report constant errors and a near-unusable service

James Bareham / The Verge

DirecTV Now has been plagued with errors in the month and a half since the streaming service was launched by AT&T. Subscribers have complained of being unable to watch shows, frequent interruptions, missing features, billing issues, and more pretty much nonstop since the service’s November 30th launch. Many say it’s simply unusable.

Since just this Monday, there have been over 200 active forum threads on AT&T’s website complaining about DirecTV Now problems. Meanwhile, the service’s support account on Twitter has been apologizing day after day and promising updates that seemingly haven’t come.

“DirecTV Now is NOT ready for prime time,” one forum user wrote, complaining of “constant buffering, freezing, and lockups.” Another said that with the many error messages they’re getting, “I feel I'm back in 1996 with dial-up.”

The service is supposed to be a replacement for cable, offering access to around 60 channels for $35 per month and up to around 120 channels $70 per month. Unlike traditional DirecTV — a satellite service — DirecTV Now streams entirely over the internet.

“My wife always brings up this catastrophic decision in petty couple arguments now,” one forum user wrote of their decision to use DirecTV Now. “We both laugh, but I cry on the inside for putting us through it.”

Subscribers have been encountering a number of different problems. In some cases, live and on-demand content simply won’t play and will result in an error message (typically saying your show “had some trouble loading. Please try again later.")

When TV and movies do play, subscribers have encountered other issues, like frequent buffering or reduced video quality, despite what they claim are strong connections. Other times, subscribers say live TV shows will cut out in the middle of a broadcast, as though they’re pausing for a commercial break where there is none, causing viewers to miss portions of their program.

Another error has caused viewers to be logged out of their accounts in the middle of watching TV and forced to sign back in again. “We are not sure why this is occurring,” a DirecTV representative wrote in a forum reply. Their suggestion was to reinstall the app.

Other users have said they were logged out and locked out of their accounts. “I haven't been able to log in for three days now,” one person wrote on the forums.

People have also reported problems with receiving local sports channels. Sometimes those channels won’t appear, other times, channels from the wrong region or streams from the wrong time zone show up. “No CSN Bay Area in the DirecTV Now Guide = no Warriors-Raptors game,” one person wrote in AT&T’s forums about a local sports channel. “Access to Warriors games was the only reason I joined DirecTV Now.”

A major feature promised at the launch of DirecTV Now, the ability to watch anything that aired within the last three days on more than 40 different channels, has remained broken since near launch. “There have been difficulties that have kept the 72 hour rewind longer than we expected,” a support representative wrote on the forums yesterday. “We are working towards getting this restored as soon as possible.”

Several people have also complained of billing problems with DirecTV Now, including being charged during their free trial period. The general quality of AT&T’s customer service has also been a frequent subject of complaint.

“How do I cancel? Doesn't work and I've been trying to get this cancelled for two days?” one person wrote in AT&T’s forums. “You basically stole $130.00 from me!”

Many subscribers are also frustrated by AT&T’s refusal to grant refunds. At launch, AT&T offered a free Apple TV to anyone willing to pre-pay for three months of service or a free Fire TV Stick to anyone willing to pre-pay for one month of service. Many did. But the assumption was that the service would work.

“I think six weeks is a lot of patience. They didn't sell this as beta,” said a subscriber named Steven, who asked that his last name not be printed, in an email to The Verge about his problems with the service.

“I just signed up a week ago, pre-paid for three months, and it flat out doesn't work,” Roy, another DirecTV Now subscriber, wrote in an email. “Their own rep acknowledges thousands of customers are having the issue, and they won't refund.”

Some pre-paid subscribers have managed to get concessions. Steven said he received account credit for his first month, but that he’s so far been denied credit for his second month (which is still ongoing).

Another person on AT&T’s forums said they managed to get a $25 refund only after filing a complaint with the FCC. “I plan to file another complaint in January if the service does not improve by say January 15th,” they wrote. Nothing had changed as of their last post, on January 4th. “My experience is terrible,” the person said.

An error in DirecTV Now’s mobile app
An error in DirecTV Now’s mobile app.

At a month and a half old, it’s perhaps no surprise that DirecTV Now is encountering some issues. But at this wide of a scale, it sounds like AT&T may have been better off postponing the launch until the service’s major usability problems were dealt with. An occasional glitch is one thing, but that’s far from what subscribers have been experiencing.

In a statement, AT&T acknowledged that there have been problems with the service, but said that it’s largely received positive feedback on DirecTV Now: “With any new technology there are going to be fixes that need to be made. 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.”

The rocky launch could serve as a warning to viewers, and other companies planning to dive into the streaming TV game, of the challenges that still exist for online TV offerings like this. On the other hand, though competing services are not without complaints, Sling TV and PS Vue both launched without such debilitating errors.

Roger Lynch, the CEO of Sling TV, is taking advantage of DirecTV Now’s stumbles. On Twitter, he’s been reaching out to people contacting DirecTV Now’s Twitter account for support. “Just switch to Sling!” he tweeted at one person. And to another, “Come on over to Sling!”

Several people complaining about DirecTV Now on Twitter have said they’re switching over, or back, to Sling.

Earlier this month, Enrique Rodriguez, the CTO of AT&T’s entertainment products, said that most of DirecTV Now’s launch issues had been dealt with. “Absolutely there were problems … the problems were not as big as I expected,” Rodriguez told FierceCable during an interview last week. “I’m so proud of the quality we delivered.”

This morning, the service appeared to be suffering another outage. In a statement, AT&T said it only affected “some” customers and has since been resolved. The company added, “We thank our customers for their patience.”