Last month we pitted Time Warner Cable against DISH, as well as DirecTV vs DISH Network. This time let’s see what happens when we compare TWC to satellite TV provider DirecTV. Since DirecTV only offers television service, we’ll just look at how it compares to Time Warner Cable’s TV service, and not TWC’s multi-service bundles that include phone, internet, and TV. (Although, if you’re interested, read this comparison between Time Warner Cable and Comcast’s XFINITY which includes bundled services.)
Time Warner Cable reported approximately 12.5 million TV service providers as of the second quarter of 2014, while DirecTV has about 20 million subscribers. Both Time Warner Cable and DirecTV lost television subscribers in the second quarter of 2014, 191,000 and 84,000, respectively. The loss was greater than expected for TWC, and, only the second loss reported in DirecTV’s history. While Q2 is traditionally a slow time for TV service providers, experts attribute some of the decline to cord-cutting and streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu Plus.
Time Warner Cable offers three TV service packages: Starter TV, Standard TV, and Preferred TV. The Starter TV plan provides at least 20 channels, the Standard TV plan 70+ channels, and the Preferred TV plan over 200 channels. Prices for the plans range from $19.99 to $49.99 per month, which are good for 12-months when you sign up. Of course, those are just base plans, and do not include fees for additional equipment, premium channels, taxes, or installation.
DirecTV offers five different tier packages starting at $29.99 per month up to $99.99 per month (a current DirecTV promotion saves you $5 per month for the first 12 months). The five packages available from DirecTV include: Entertainment (140+ channels), Choice (150+ channels), Extra (205+ channels), Ultimate (225+ channels), and Premiere (285+ channels). The base pricing, like TWC, does not include all equipment costs, service fees, or taxes.
One of DirecTV’s most popular products may be the NFL Sunday Ticket. The subscription offers every NFL game on every Sunday throughout the season. DirecTV renewed their license for the Sunday Ticket in 2009, for which they paid $1B per year starting in 2010. However, that contract expires at the end of the 2014/2015 season. As of late, you can find plenty of forecasts about who will pick up the next NFL Sunday Ticket season.
How do TV services from these two companies compare? Let’s get started with the first thing that happens when you choose a new TV provider… installation.
To figure installation costs and channel availability, we used an address in Santa Monica, CA. Time Warner Cable would charge an estimated total of $50 for installation, and also charges $19.99 for any additional cable box outlets at the time of installation (although, the first outlet is free). In contrast, DirecTV does not charge for installation with a two year agreement.
Time Warner Cable provides about 130 HD channels when pulling listings in the Santa Monica, CA market. DirecTV, which has a consistent nationwide lineup with the exception of local HD networks, lists close to 160 HD channel selections to choose from not including local HD options. Although Time Warner’s HD channel options may be higher or lower depending on market, they do not appear to offer as many as DirecTV in any of their markets.
Time Warner Cable claims their On Demand library contains 18,000 movie and TV shows listings, with 10,000 of them available free-of-charge. DirecTV says their On Demand library also consists of over 10,000 titles available at no extra charge. Although DirecTV doesn’t indicate how many pay VOD choices are available, the more important number here is the free On Demand choices.
Equipment & Special Features
Time Warner’s mid-tier DVR Box and service gives you 30+ hours of programming storage, but only allows you to record and play programming on one TV. Their more competitive Whole House HD DVR box and service gives you up to 75 hours of HD (or 200 hours of SD), and lets you record a show in one room and watch in other rooms with playback boxes. The DVR Box and Whole House HD-DVR service also allows you to watch one live show and record another at the same time. Or, record two shows at once. With the WH-DVR service, the luxury of having access in additional rooms does come at a price. You’ll need to pay $12.95 per month per HD-DVR or $8.00 per month per HD receiver.
To compare, the DIRECTV Plus HD DVR gives you 500GB of storage space, allowing you store approximately the same amount of programming as Time Warner’s WH-DVR. But the company’s higher end Genie product lets you record 5 shows at once, watch two channels at the same time with Picture-in-Picture, and record approximately 150 hours of HD on its 1TB hard drive. A smaller device called the Genie Mini connects other TV sets in your house to the main Genie box. The additional Advanced Receiver Service from DirecTV will cost you an additional $25 per month.
Watch TV & Movies Everywhere
In terms of watching programming remotely, Time Warner Cable’s TWC TV product lets you watch select live TV programs on your tablet, PC, or smartphone anywhere with your Time Warner Cable ID even when away from home. This includes 300 live TV channels on your PC or Mac. The TWC app will also allow you to manage your DVR recordings while away from home.
DirecTV’s DIRECTV Everywhere product lets you watch live TV, recorded, and On Demand content on your smartphone or tablet in home. The DIRECTV app for mobile devices offers remote browsing, viewing and DVR scheduling. At home, with a GenieGO connected to your HD DVR you can also transfer shows to your PC, tablet or smartphone and watch them without an internet connection. The only thing you can’t do yet is stream live TV on your PC, although DirecTV says they are working on providing that service.
Time Warner does have some special offers for bundled services. In their top-tier package, you can get HD-DVR Service plus HBO with HBO GO or STARZ, Turbo Speed, Home WiFi, TWC WiFi Hotspots and installation is included along with EPIX right now (Summer 2014)! However, when trying to find special offers for standalone TV service we came up empty handed.
DirecTV offers the 2013 NFL Sunday Ticket to new customers who sign up for the Choice package or higher at no extra cost. How can Time Warner Cable compete with that? The Sunday Ticket is a $299 value, and, any sports fan would be happy to have the subscription. Heck, any sports fan’s neighbor would be happy to have someone with the Sunday Ticket next door. On top of that, DirecTV offers a free Genie HD DVR upgrade for connecting up to four rooms.
Service Contract Periods
Time Warner Cable does not require long-term contracts. Although, it’s worth mentioning the special sign-up promotional rates are good for 12-months. In contrast, DirecTV requires a 24-month service agreement.
Time Warner’s least expensive television service, Basic TV, gives you over 20 channels (with some in HD and free local channels). TWC’s Basic TV also provides an HD-DVR or HD Box (or you can opt of using a box). The Basic TV package costs $19.99 per month.
DirecTV’s most affordable option is the Entertainment package, which provides over 140 channel options, free HBO, Starz, Showtime, and Cinemax for three months, and a free Genie upgrade (although additional fees for equipment and services apply). However, the service starts at $54.99 per month.
Top Tier Packages
For those of you who need to max-out your viewing options, Time Warner Cable offers over 200 channels in their Digital TV package. The package also includes HBO/Showtime, TWC TV (for watching live TV on your PC, tablet or smartphone while in home), Look Back (letting you watch primetime shows up to 72 hours after they air), and Start Over (letting you start over a program from the beginning). The Preferred TV service at base costs $79.99, including Whole House HD-DVR; add one HD Box service for $11.75 per month it brings you up to $91.74 (before taxes).
DirecTV offers quite a bit more in their Premier package. The service gives you over 285 digital channels, HBO, Starz, Showtime, and Cinemax premium channels, view anywhere capabilities (your laptop, tablet, smartphone), over 35 specialty sports channels, and Free Genie HD DVR upgrade (although additional receivers require additional fees). Premiere normally costs $124.99 per month. But, a special sign-up promotion offers the first 12 months at $86.99 per month and the remaining 12 months at $91.99 per month in a 24-month contract.
It’s been a pretty close comparison. But we found Time Warner Cable has little bit more to offer in terms of providing an economical yet robust TV service. Yes, DirecTV’s Genie HD DVR product allows you to record up to 5 channels at once to a 1TB drive, and they still own the license to distribute NFL Sunday Ticket. However, Time Warner Cable has a more economical TV solution: it let’s you watch live TV channels on your PC or Mac and doesn’t require a long-term contract (which is a huge plus for many subscribers who don’t want to be tied down).
Jeff Chabot has a background in web development and design, as well as working in broadcast television as a studio engineer, lighting director and editor. He frequently writes about technology, broadcasting, digital entertainment, and the internet.