Commentary

Big Media Bets On Skinny Bundles

If you have been around long enough to remember the days when cable companies were pumping up their network offerings by adding suites of new channels, the amazing shrinking Viacom is satisfying to watch. Wait long enough, and every once in awhile you’ll get rewarded with a hearty “told ya’ so.”  Later, Logo! Take it easy, TVLand!

We’re watching the neat retreat of cable bigness, as large media companies embrace the digital skinny bundle. But economically, it still seems hard to figure.

A really interesting analysis by Variety’s Cynthia Littleton asserts that, “2017 is a put-up-or-shut-up year for skinny bundles. The rise of lower-cost streaming-channel packages brewing from DirecTV Now, Hulu, and YouTube (and maybe others) has analysts obsessed with not only tracking the demand for such services but with trying to determine whether the OTT packages will add to Hollywood’s bottom line or will cannibalize subscribers to higher-priced traditional MVPD bundles.”

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The major TV producers are hoping that those new OTT streaming services will become popular enough to offset the march of consumers from cable.

What will be enticing to consumers is how much less they can be happy with. This may be the first generation that doesn’t do better than their parents, but it seems a sure bet it will be the first generation to happily have fewer TV channels than mom and pop did.  

But that last trend is considered a good thing, I think.

Programmers and networks need more money to survive because in the overabundant content world, they need to keep producing more programming than the competition. You, the people, become the direct revenue stream.

How that works out will be fascinating, a battle of big networks relatively unencumbered by regulation, airwaves or middlemen. Littleton cites strategy voiced by 21st Century Fox co-chairman Lachlan Murdoch that suggests Hulu’s eventual streaming service is a way for Hulu’s owners--the dominant networks (minus CBS) and Time Warner--to set the standard for everybody else.

Because they can.

Though Hulu’s new look is still just a lot of talk at this point, Murdoch tells Littleton it has “already been successful in terms of having some influence in terms of how these packages of core channels are being put together.”

For consumers it will be a confusing time. Taking the existing services--DirecTV Now, Playstation Vue and SlingTV--each one offers a lot, but each one also has something missing. It’s like having three cable operators in your town--none of them perfect, but at least there's competition. For now. 

If Hulu gets it all right, or if YouTube’s rumored streaming service does, or Apple’s--the jackpot could be enormous. Still it is a little unthrilling to realize that over the top content will likely be dominated by most of the same players whose sensibilities drove millions of fans away from TV.

pj@mediapost.com
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