DirecTV Now just became a bad streaming deal despite Game of Thrones

Commentary: Making HBO mandatory, dropping a bunch of popular channels and jacking the price by $10 is more Cersei than Daenerys. Shame!

David Katzmaier Editorial Director -- Personal Tech
David reviews TVs and leads the Personal Tech team at CNET, covering mobile, software, computing, streaming and home entertainment. We provide helpful, expert reviews, advice and videos on what gadget or service to buy and how to get the most out of it.
Expertise A 20-year CNET veteran, David has been reviewing TVs since the days of CRT, rear-projection and plasma. Prior to CNET he worked at Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as the Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics. Credentials
  • Although still awaiting his Oscar for Best Picture Reviewer, David does hold certifications from the Imaging Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology on display calibration and evaluation.
David Katzmaier
3 min read

At its new price of $50 per month, DirecTV costs more than any other competing live TV service.

David Katzmaier/CNET

The wild world of live TV streaming just went through another disruption. Blame the final season of Game of Thrones starting next month.

DirecTV Now, which lets you watch numerous TV channels live over the Internet without a cable TV subscription, just raised the price of its cheapest package from $40 to $50 per month. That package includes HBO, the exclusive home of Game of Thrones season 8, whether you want it or not.

On the surface that seems like an OK deal. Getting a standalone HBO Now subscription costs $15 per month, so an increase of $10 to get HBO included is still a $5 monthly discount. And if you want DirecTV Now's mix of channels -- namely HBO as well as all four live local stations (ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC) -- the service is still worth considering. 

But there are plenty of other options for cable TV cord cutters, and the new DirecTV Now is among the most expensive. Let's break down the changes and how DirecTV Now stacks up against the competition.

20 things we're dying to see in the final season of 'Game of Thrones'

See all photos

Fewer channels, more money

As Tyrion Lannister says: "Every time we deal with an enemy, we create two more." 

DirecTV Now added HBO, but removed a host of other popular channels. Here's the list of major channels no longer available on the service:

  • A&E
  • AMC
  • Animal Planet
  • BBC America
  • BET
  • Comedy Central
  • Cooking Channel
  • C-SPAN
  • Discovery Channel
  • Food Network
  • HGTV
  • History
  • Lifetime
  • MTV
  • Nickelodon
  • Nick Jr.

I keep a list of the Top 100 channels offered by the various live TV streaming services, including DirecTV Now, Sling TV, YouTube TV, Hulu with Live TV, AT&T Watch TV, Philo and Fubo TV. The channels above are available on many of them, and many of the most popular, such as AMC, Comedy Central, Discovery and HGTV, are classic cable TV staples found on most of DirecTV Now's competitors. 

In cutting those channels and others, DirecTV Now dropped from 61 to 38 of the top 100. The only services with fewer such channels are significantly cheaper: AT&T Watch TV ($15), Philo ($16) and Sling TV ($25). Every one of DirecTV Now's competitors at $40 and up has at least 10 more top-100 channels.

At $50 monthly, DirecTV Now is now the most-expensive live TV streaming service. Note that current subscribers to DirecTV Now's original packages can keep their (superior) channel lineups, but will have to pay at least $50 as well.

Watch this: Why you should say no to DirecTV Now

Other ways to get HBO for Game of Thrones

The inclusion of HBO with DirecTV Now is compelling in some ways, particularly if you also want a live TV streaming service and don't miss the channels that were cut. But it's a package deal -- the kind of bundle many cord cutters are trying to avoid -- and there are plenty of other ways to watch Tyrion and company.

How to stream HBO without cable

The cheapest solution is a standalone HBO Now subscription for $15. It doesn't get you any live TV channels, but it does allow you to watch Game of Thrones (and other HBO shows) as soon as they air, and on-demand afterward anytime.

You can pay for any live TV services as well as an HBO Now subscription separately, and for AT&T Watch TV, Philo and Sling TV, the total will cost less than DirecTV Now. Meanwhile a more-expensive service like YouTube TV offers significantly more channels for a bit more money. 

Select live TV + separate HBO Now options

PriceLive channels (top 100)HBOTotal cost
DirecTV Now $5039Included$50
AT&T Watch TV $1533$15$30
Philo $1635$15$31
Sling Orange $2524$15$40
Sling Blue $2537$15$40
YouTube TV $4055$15$55

All of these mix-and-match options are better deals than DirecTV Now in my opinion. Sling TV's Blue package, for example, provides 37 channels (including Fox and NBC in many cities) and costs $25 per month, for a total of $40 per month -- $10 cheaper than DirecTV Now -- if you add HBO Now as a 38th "channel." And YouTube TV has many of the channels now missing from DirecTV Now, as well as a superior DVR.

As usual with cord cutting, determining which service deserves your cash requires a little research. In the current market, however, DirecTV Now is less deserving than most. At least until the next live TV streaming service raises its prices, too.