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October 22, 2017
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AT&T’s DirecTV Now plagued with outages and sports blackouts
Posted On: Dec 18, 2016

Barely two weeks after AT&T launched DirecTV Now, the online streaming service's customers have already been hit by multiple outages, unexpected blackouts of live local sports games, and missing channels.

There was an outage of about three hours last night and a two-hour outage Friday night, TVPredictions reported today. "DirecTV Now's customers said they couldn't log onto the streaming service, or they were suddenly met with a blank screen if already watching," the report said.

Ars Technica Senior Editor David Kravets was affected by yesterday's outage, being met by this error message when he tried to watch DirecTV Now:

The "Error Message 30" article tells customers that they may be suffering from "an intermittent or weak Internet connection," but in this case the problem was on DirecTV's end.

"Tuesday evening we experienced an issue that prevented some customers from streaming on DirecTV Now," AT&T told Ars today. "The issue has since been resolved and we're seeing normal streaming levels at this time. We thank our customers for their patience."

Sports blackouts and missing channels

Even when DirecTV Now works, availability of live sports games hasn't lived up to what the company promised. There appear to be technical problems affecting local games, but licensing restrictions may be limiting availability as well.

This past Sunday, some DirecTV Now subscribers in cities such as San Francisco, Tampa Bay, and Atlanta could not watch NFL games on local Fox channels due to a technical problem, TVPredictions reported in another article. DirecTV Now support reps on Twitter initially told subscribers that the blackouts were caused by the company not having rights to air the games, but AT&T later blamed an unspecified technical error. "We've identified the issue and are confident that customers will be able to stream next Sunday's games in available markets where league blackout restrictions don't apply," AT&T said.

Availability of local games on regional sports networks has also been spotty. Kravets, Ars Technica's most devoted Golden State Warriors fan, has been unable to watch several Warriors games on DirecTV Now, even though AT&T says it negotiated rights to air the games on Comcast SportsNet (CSN) Bay Area. Other Warriors fans notified Ars that they ran into the same problem.

We contacted AT&T about the Warriors problem on December 4. A company spokesperson said he was looking into it, but we still haven't received an explanation.

Initially, games were blacked out despite the CSN Bay Area channel being available in DirecTV Now listings. But now, some customers (including our own unlucky Kravets) also report that the CSN Bay Area and CSN California channels have disappeared from the listings entirely.

"A DirecTV Now chat agent informed me that the engineers were working on it," one frustrated customer wrote in an AT&T support forum. "No estimate of when the problem would be resolved. He said to just keep checking the guide."

The DirecTV Now website still claims to carry the channels. This is not a nationwide problem; Comcast SportsNet New England is still available on DirecTV Now, for example.

Customers on the support forum speculated that DirecTV Now might not be correctly matching channel lineups with zip codes. One customer reported being able to watch a regional sports network that shouldn't have been available in their area.

Unless customers do plenty of research or can get answers from DirecTV representatives, it's hard to tell whether games are blacked out due to technical problems or licensing problems. AT&T touted widespread availability of regional sports networks on DirecTV Now to assure customers that they could cancel cable and still see local games. But a DirecTV Now help article warns that sports fans may not always be able to watch local games due to licensing restrictions.

"Due to our agreements with sports leagues and associations, we are restricted from showing events near where a game is played or broadcast locally," AT&T says in the article. "In addition, national networks like ESPN and TNT have exclusive distribution rights to some events. It's important to understand that sports blackouts and game availability are controlled by the leagues, associations, and networks that purchase the rights to broadcast individual games. To protect their rights, DirecTV Now must enforce the restrictions mandated by them."

AT&T, which purchased DirecTV last year, told Ars that games airing on regular cable or satellite TV should not be blacked out on DirecTV Now. If true, local sports games should air normally on the service once all the technical problems are fixed.

But it's up to AT&T to give customers better explanations when games are unexpectedly blacked out and promised channels are removed from listings. Customers who can't watch local sports games are frustrated by the lack of information about when the biggest problems will be fixed.

"The whole service is just too full of bugs and inconsistencies," one customer wrote. "In my opinion, not good enough for a launch and definitely not good enough to retain me as a customer."

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