Legacy Pay TV Remains Lucrative, Even As Business Evolves

Hulu + Live TV has grown to become the fifth-biggest pay TV provider, with 4.1 million subscribers.

Just a few days later, the Walt Disney-owned virtual pay TV service, raised its monthly subscription price by $10 to $65 -- one of the priciest virtual pay TV providers.

That’s fairly close to the average monthly price of traditional pay TV -- cable, satellite, telco services. This brings up a familiar question: Isn’t the high cost of traditional pay TV providers -- cable, satellite, or telco -- the main reason for consumers became cord-cutter, cord-shavers, cord-nevers?

This isn’t just about Hulu. Other virtual pay TV services have also raised prices over the last year or so. One of Dish Network’s Sling TV options continues to be one the least expensive virtual pay TV providers, at around $30 a month; Philo, a cable-network focus pay TVer, can be bought for $20 a month.



All this was expected by analysts -- that the traditional pay TV industry would find ways of transitioning to the virtual pay TV world from the legacy pay TV world.

Now, we have Walt Disney -- up until recently a pure movie-TV-live entertainment company -- owning a pay TV service. Disney joins others that have pay TV providers and movie/TV content business -- including Comcast Corp. (NBC, Comcast Cable, Xfiinity) and AT&T (WarnerMedia, DirecTV).

Comcast has 20.1 million pay TV subscribers; AT&T has 17.1 million subscribers when looking at its pay TV brands (DirecTV, AT&T, U-Verse).

So, by contrast, Disney’s is behind. But perhaps Disney is looking at other packaging options to grow the business. It already does this with the Hulu on-demand option, combining it with Disney+ and ESPN+ for $12.99 a month. Plus, it also offers Disney+, ESPN+, and Hulu + Live TV (with on-demand programming) for $61.99 a month.

Disney might be cautious -- as are other media companies -- when it comes to transitioning business to the digital world. The total U.S. pay TV business stands at $79.9 billion a year, coming from 83.5 million subscribers.

Hulu + Live TV is well behind four other big pay TV providers -- just 5% of all live, linear pay TV subscribers -- virtual and legacy. Comcast is at 20.1 million subscribers; Charter, 16.2 million; DirecTV, 14.3 million; and Dish Network, 9.0 million. (Hulu + Live TV is now just ahead of Verizon FiOS which is at 3.92 million).

All this comes as Disney puts more effort into digital platforms, like Disney+. The question is: How much does Disney really want to grow its virtual pay TV business, alongside or separate from its other digital platforms?

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