In the old days, consumers complained that they had so little choice. Whatever cable service served their community was the cable service they got. Dish or DirecTV were options, but not attractive ones.
And that paucity of choice was accompanied by a straitjacket of suffocating bundles, so that even if you didn’t want it, you bought a group of channels that you wouldn’t watch on a dare.
Those days are going away, finally. Skinny bundles-- a term that always sounds like the stage name of a porn star the guys in Spinal Tap would hang with--will be the thing in 2017. Consumers will have their choice of TV services whose major feature will be the lack of options, a low price tag and presumably, the lack of a contract.
The latest announced entrant is YouTube’s planned Unplugged. The Wall Street Journal says CBS has agreed to be a part of the new streamlined TV service that will start next year, and that Disney and 21st Century Fox--read that as ABC and Fox--are near to making deals. If it happens, consumers would be paying $25 to $50 a month.
Though YouTube Red already is a pay service of sorts--and maybe not a very successful one--Unplugged is a separate entity, according to reports.
Unplugged would join a bunch of other players, of course. Hulu is planning a skinny bundle attachment of its own. Sony already offers Vue. And Dish already offers Sling TV, a slim collection of TV networks that can be expanded to resemble something like a. ... cable network. Verizon’s FiOs has a less expansive alternative. Even Comcast, the home of swollen cable, last year began offering a slimmed down version called Stream, in Boston, with plans to roll it out nationwide (by now, in fact).
It doesn’t seem possible you’ll be able to get too far into the non-Obama years without whacking your cable bill, or at least imagining you will. The cord-cutting that could go on in 2017 could be epic, except that cable providers are also Internet providers and that combo has a powerful way of muddying up the cost-savings equation.
That so many content providers, even the old-timers like the broadcast networks, are diving into the murky pool of cut-rate, digitally-delivered program services is a dramatic indication of how unsettled the content landscape has become. Their proliferation could be a killer for local stations, too. If the major broadcast networks enter into skinny Web deals, local network affiliates could lose a lot of viewers.
Also it can't escape anyone's notice that as a cultural trend, consumers and program suppliers are simultaneously figuring out ways to exit the old television environment. It has been a very long time since any cable marketer has sold prospective customers on the wide, wide array of channel options. When content discovery became a perceived problem, the end of excess was near.
The routine resistance points to deals like YouTube’s Unplugged remain. The Journal story says YouTube has this bright idea of overlaying info like sports stats on top of, say, an ESPN telecast, but that idea may not fly with the network rights-holders.
And, the paper says, “Media companies are also wary that YouTube will bundle their premium content alongside Web-native videos and YouTube stars, which they perceive as lower value content.” (You don't want something as high-brow as "Two Broke Girls" nuzzling up against Jenna Marbles!)
That traditional TV outlets can still muster up that kind of hubris is at once nostalgic and pathetic.