I get the idea the new streaming services say one thing to the cable operators. To them, Playstation Vue, Sling, DirecTV Now and soon YouTube TV profess the new businesses are just filling in, getting subscribers who wouldn’t buy cable TV. (And Hulu’s streaming service, yet to come.)
To consumers, the message is to the point: “Cut the cord. We’ve got you covered.”
YouTube’s blog post announcing YouTube TV lists a half dozens selling points. The last one is: “Half the cost of cable with zero commitments. A YouTube TV membership is only $35 a month and there are no commitments—you can cancel anytime.”
Each of the streaming service makes a version of the same pitch--and even that price point--to differentiate themselves from cable or satellite where the cost of equipment and/or installation comes with at least an implied commitment.
Seriously, I can’t understand why everybody wouldn’t at least try these things. Each of the existing ones offers a free sample week or more. (Hulu's service is on its way, too.)
But if you’re going to quit, you want at least a cherry-pre-picked version of cable in return--that means top cable networks and local broadcast stations. For devoted TV viewers, it seems a DVR is necessary. For people who don’t watch much TV--something like the cord nevers--a DVR, or a bunch of them that YouTube TV is offering, seems nice but unnecessary.
They’re already plucking series TV and other content on demand. Scheduling DVR accommodations for day-and-date programming isn’t that relevant.
If you buy that premise, DirecTV Now would seem to be a good choice. It offers different levels of service that kind of ruins the premise of the skinny bundle; even the smallest one offers something like 60 channels. You can pick favorites and unfavorites get shunned on the on-screen guide until you want them.
In big markets, DirecTV Now comes with live local ABC, NBC and Fox stations. Nobody gets CBS, a big negative. On its very pleasant user interface, y just pick favorites, and the rest kind of fade away. There’s no DVR, but a big selection of on-demand content. I have it. I like it about as much as a person should like a content app.
A big problem for DirecTV Now is this: It deserved and got an instant bad rap when It started on Nov. 30. Too many people signed up too quickly--200,000 in the first month--and DirecTV Now was all buffer all the time. A great example of the theory of minimally-viable-product taken to a wacky extreme.
Now, says Tony Goncalves, SVP of strategy and business development for AT&T Entertainment Group: “We are seeing some material improvements in the stability of the platform.”
SlingTV also suffers from the same kinds of reliability problems. It doesn’t offer spectacular deals and there’s no ABC or CBS. It’s rolling out a DVR. Beta tests are going on with some Roku customers.
Playstation Vue does offer a DVR, but like the user interface generally, it’s pretty clumsy and not too intuitive. Marketing-wise, I wonder if Sony is losing a bunch of potential customers who think you have to own a Playstation unit to get Playstation Vue. (You don’t. I have it and have never played a game in my life.)
Playstation Vue does offer the four major broadcast networks (including CBS), a good number of ESPN, Fox and NBC sport channels, and all three major cable news channels and what I would consider the other staples.
It doesn’t seem as quick as DirecTV Now but on the plus side, if getting network access is important to you, with Playstation Vue you can ditch CBS All Access. As I said, I have Playstation Vue too--I’m having kind of a bake-off with DirecTV Now. Its major selling point is having all four broadcast networks. Maybe I’m too old.
YouTube TV, before it happens, seems to have some problems--namely, no CNN for news junkies (but Fox News and MSNBC.) In fact, YouTube has nothing from Time Warner’s Turner cable stable (no TNT, TBS or Cartoon Network), or Viacom’s either (no MTV, VH1 or Comedy Central).
Granted, because it is YouTube, there will be endless choices for MTVish programming and news and entertainment options that YouTube brings to the app.
If you put all the services up each other you’d think YouTube TV, on paper, would be a slam dunk. But it’s not. There’s time before it launches to fix that.
“It’s hard to imagine an attractive package without Turner,” John Martin, CEO of the Time Warner cable division, told Bloomberg, and while that may be the most self-serving observation in media history, Martin is also exactly right in my book.
Meanwhile, at Tubefilter, writer Sam Gutelle did a quick check about what some YouTube vloggers themselves think of YouTube TV. Generally, it seems, they see it as a plus — “a game changer” says the pretty wise Philip DeFranco, who like others thinks may help legitimize YouTube with advertisers.
Taking a different view is vlogger Boogie 2988 who cautioned: “The people that watch a lot of YouTube are people that used to watch a lot of television. If you make it easier and more convenient for those people to watch television, they’ll watch less YouTube and return their eyes to mainstream television instead.”