Why would “DIRECTV Now” let you have local channels on your phone but not on your TV?

The saga continues.

DIRECTV Now, the streaming service from DIRECTV, was rumored to have launched last week. Obviously, that didn’t happen, and we’re left to wonder why. There have been a few leaks and some sites are reporting that the “live” site was active for a few minutes yesterday. This may give us some idea what’s to come, and what’s still not going to be there at launch time.

It’s been widely rumored that CBS and Fox are still not on board, and the news yesterday was that local NBC and ABC channels will only be available on mobile devices, not on your TV. That would be a blow to the entire service.

There is also talk that the recent change in the political landscape could mean AT&T won’t be able to offer DIRECTV data for free to its mobile customers, potentially dooming DIRECTV Now from the start for mobile users.

Of course this is just talk and the truth is, no one outside the company knows. But it does raise the question, why would you be able to get locals on your phone and not on your TV?

Contracts, of course.

Contract negotiations never seem to take into account the future, only the past. DIRECTV was one of the last companies to let users authenticate to the “Watch ABC” set of apps, and the reason given was the long-term contract signed with Disney (parent of ABC, ESPN and others) didn’t allow it and the new contract wasn’t due yet. It’s fair to guess that the last contract negotiated with these providers lets DIRECTV stream programs to mobile devices, but not to televisions. We’re talking about not just the major networks but a patchwork group of station owners all across the country. Unlike pay-TV only networks (think Bravo, HGTV, ESPN, etc.) these local channel contracts will have to be negotiated one by one, and there are hundreds of them.

We truthfully don’t know any more about “DIRECTV Now” than we did a month ago, other than a statement that the service will cost $35 (but we don’t know what you get for that.) There have been some commitments made that the service will launch this year but that could be up in the air with FCC issues looming. The most important thing now is that it be a good, strong value for consumers when it does launch, and that it launches cleanly with few technical issues. That’s really going to make all the difference long term.

When you look at “the other side of the aisle” at DISH’s Sling TV product, you can see that it’s out there, it’s an alternative and it seems to be getting really stable now, but it’s not driving massive subscriber numbers for DISH, at least as far as we can tell. DISH doesn’t release streaming numbers separately, but since Sling TV is less expensive than DISH satellite TV, and DISH’s average revenue per user went up not down, it’s more likely that DISH’s subscriber base is still mostly satellite and not mostly streaming.

I think that most people agree at this point that streaming is the future, but all this back-and-forth with DIRECTV Now just really proves how satellite TV service is going to be with us for some time to come. Satellite TV is reliable and mature and it works… giving local channels to something like 98% of the population. It’s here now and it can be had for a reasonable price if you pick and choose carefully. In the future we may have some really robust streaming options but right now satellite TV is really the best way to go.