AT&T TV reinvents cable for a new age, but keeps the tired old pricing model

AT&T’s subscription TV service, AT&T TV — not to be confused with AT&T TV Now (formerly DirecTV Now) — rolls out nationwide on Monday, March 2, after launching in more than a dozen markets last year. When you sign up for a two-year contract, you’ll get an Android TV set-top box and a remote with a Google Assistant button. Frankly, it looks a lot like cable, which is exactly what AT&T TV is going for.

Unlike popular month-to-month streaming TV apps such as YouTube TV, Hulu + Live TV, and Sling TV, AT&T TV’s contract-based system is aimed to provide a better cable or satellite alternative, rather than a cheaper one. As more and more consumers cut the cord from DirecTV, AT&T is trying to convince them to keep the cord (and the contract) in exchange for an improved experience.

Just like cable, you can watch AT&T TV on your television using the Android TV box or use the AT&T TV app on iOS, iPadOS, or Android to take your subscription with you. To set it up, you just plug into your TV’s HDMI port, enter your Wi-Fi info, and sign in to your AT&T TV account — no installation scheduling necessary. With a custom “home screen,” the Android TV experience always shows the last channel you were watching live, an approach that’s similar to the live-streaming aspect of NBC’s upcoming Peacock streaming service.

AT&T TV includes cloud DVR that lets you save up to 500 hours of shows and movies (which deletes after 90 days) and allows up to three concurrent streams so the whole family can watch in different locations. The Google Assistant remote makes it easy to navigate channels.

With easier setup and accessibility options, the package does indeed look like a better version of cable … until you get to the pricing.

The base package includes local broadcast channels, ESPN, AMC, FX, FXX, CNN, and some other cable networks, and starts at $50 per month. The middle-tier Choice package starts at $55 and allows you to add some premium channels and regional sports networks.

AT&T is also currently offering a bundle of gigabit home internet (where available) with AT&T TV for a total of $80 per month. HBO is included for the first three months with all plans. AT&T TV also lets you install apps such as Netflix, Disney+, and other streaming apps from the Google Play Store, giving you a more on-demand experience. (Here’s the full channel lineup for your viewing pleasure.

That pricing is decent until you realize that it’s only locked for the first year of service. That second year of your contract, the packages all nearly double in price. Entertainment goes up to $93, Choice to $110, Xtra to $124, and Ultimate to $135. Like the worst parts of cable, the contract includes activation fees and early termination fees if you cancel before the service agreement is up.

Ultimately, AT&T TV sets you up for a seamless honeymoon period before reminding you exactly why you wanted to cut the cord in the first place. As the service rolls out nationwide, time will tell whether the company will recapture any former subscribers.

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