New industry data compiled by Leichtman Research Group shows that broadband ISPs that account for 93% of the U.S. market added over 1.1 million subscribers in Q1 '13, nearly 6 times the 194K pay-TV subscribers that were added in the period by pay-TV operators that account for 94% of the market.
Broadband subscriber additions have outstripped pay-TV's for years, but the 6x ratio is more than double the average of 2.8x from the prior 2 years. The 194K pay-TV additions in Q1 were down 56% vs. the 445K added in Q1 '12, while the 1.1M broadband additions were off 15% from the 1.3M in each of the prior 2 years.
On the surface the data suggests that cord-cutting - a shift from viewing video via pay-TV to via broadband - may finally be taking hold. But while LRG's Bruce Leichtman has indeed found an uptick in his calculations of cord-cutting (up from .2% of U.S. homes to .4%-.5%), he sees a far more nuanced picture of what accounted for Q1's swing, plus lots of uncertainty going forward.
Yesterday's victory by Aereo in federal appeals court is certain to have at least one consequence: it will put retransmission consent fees into the spotlight. For those unfamiliar with "retrans" as it is known, these are fees that broadcast TV networks and stations have negotiated from pay-TV operators. Much like the fees pay-TV operators pay to carry cable TV networks (e.g. MTV, USA, ESPN, etc.), retrans allows operators to carry broadcast networks.
Retrans fees are already a billion dollar plus revenue stream for broadcasters and by some estimates, could be a multiple of this in several years. Broadcasters see the payments as vital to keeping them on parity economic footing with cable networks. Conversely, operators see retrans as a broadcast subsidy, effectively inflating their already bloated programming costs. Retrans has been at the heart of most of the blackout battles between broadcasters and operators over the last several years.
I attended the D: Dive Into Media conference earlier this week for the first time. It is mainly a series of one-on-one interviews with senior executives from a variety of media and technology companies, plus networking. Overall it was a great conference, and it's hard to beat a couple of days in beautiful Dana Point, CA, especially when coming off a blizzard in Boston.
My main interest was the video-related sessions, and from those I had 6 takeaways which I share below (along with selected session video clips), in no particular order:
New research from The Diffusion Group forecasts that the number of "pay-TV refugees" - U.S. homes subscribing to broadband, but not to pay-TV services - will increase 58%, from 10.9 million in 2012 to 17.2 million in 2017. Pay-TV refugees consist of both "cord-cutters" (homes that once subscribed to pay-TV, but no longer do) and "cord-nevers" (homes that have never subscribed to pay-TV). The percentage of broadband subscribers who are pay-TV refugees will increase from 12.5% in 2012 to 17.2% in 2017.
Although it forecasts the number of cord-cutters to increase over the next 5 years, TDG's founding partner and director of research Michael Greeson believes the pay-TV industry's main concern should be with cord-nevers which will more than double during that period. Of the 17.2 million pay-TV refugees in 2017, TDG forecasts 40% or 6.9 million of them to be cord-nevers, up from 29%, or 3.2 million, in 2012.
Topics: The Diffusion Group
Talk to any pay-TV operator executive these days and you'll get an earful on the relentless rise in their programming costs - what they pay to deliver both cable and broadcast TV networks into their subscribers' homes. Programming costs drive up subscribers' rates, in turn exacerbating pay-TV's affordability crisis, which in turn exposes the industry to cord-cutting, cord-shaving and over-the-top alternatives.
As I've written numerous times, scratch the surface of the programming cost issue and the focus quickly turns to sports networks and more specifically Regional Sports Networks ("RSNs") which have the geographic rights to air their local professional teams' games. One pay-TV executive who's attempting to take a hard line on RSNs' escalating costs is Michael White, CEO of DirecTV, who, on the company's earnings call on Tuesday, once again said that "regional sports networks' structure in the industry is broken" and that "we are taxing most of our customers who wouldn't be willing to pay for that content."
In a brief interview in AdWeek yesterday, Mark Cuban said "if Apple released a set-top box that supported authentication for multichannel video programming distributors (like cable and satellite companies), it would be a huge success." I agree with him - and that's exactly why such a product won't see the light of day.
As I asserted in August ("Apple to Make Cable Set-Top Boxes? Not. Going. To. Happen."), if pay-TV operators invited Apple to make set-tops it would be like letting the proverbial fox into the henhouse. They would be turning over their user experience to Apple, allowing the company to drive the UI and therefore reshape the video experience as it determined, just as it has done in music with iTunes. While there might be some short-term benefits (e.g. lower capex, etc.), the pay-TV industry's ability to sustain its multi-channel bundle long-term would be undermined.
Is online video its own medium, or is it a farm league for those aspiring to make the transition to the majors of traditional TV? This has been a persistent question for years, and has gained more attention as numerous big-name celebrities have begun creating online-only originals. Are these stars committed to online video, or is it just a stepping stone to the conventional TV world they know so well and have benefiting from so greatly?
No doubt, the question will be re-visited anew, as former Fox News host - and current online video star - Glenn Beck has announced this morning a new distribution deal with Dish Network for his online network TheBlazeTV, along with the intention to pursue other pay-TV carriage deals. Regardless of what you think of his politics, Beck's move back into pay-TV, leveraging his success online, will surely be viewed as a template by others looking to make a similar leap.
Since Q2 '11, when the pay-TV industry lost video subscribers for the first time, there has been a debate raging over the impact of "cord-cutting." Flash forward a year, and anyone hoping for some clarity on this critical question would arguably be even more confused. Read certain media coverage of the pay-TV industry's Q2 '12 results and you'd conclude cord-cutting was gaining traction; read others and you'd conclude it wasn't. A key reason for the murkiness: somehow over the past year the definition of "cord-cutting" has become very squishy.
Topics: Sanford Bernstein
I'm pleased to be joined once again by Colin Dixon, senior partner at The Diffusion Group, for the 142nd edition of the VideoNuze-TDG Report podcast. In this week's podcast Colin and I first discuss NBC's Olympics video streaming. Despite some high profile criticism, we agree that NBC has actually done a pretty good job and has laid a foundation for live streaming to be an expected part of all Olympics coverage in the future.
Next we review Q2 '12 results from some of the largest pay-TV operators. Video subscriber losses continue, although Q2 is historically a soft quarter. Colin notes that recent TDG research shows the pay-TV value proposition is increasingly challenged and he believes that means higher churn is ahead, with bigger opportunities for OTT options.
Speaking of those options, Aereo announced new low-cost plans and both Colin and I agree that they're a clever way to reduce entry barriers and increase viewing flexibility. It's still early, but we like Aereo's odds of success.
Last up, we note the early demise of the Nexus Q media streaming device, a product that both us called a dud a couple of weeks ago.
Listen in to learn more.
Click here to listen to the podcast (21 minutes, 43 seconds)
I'm pleased to be joined once again by Colin Dixon, senior partner at The Diffusion Group, for the 140th edition of the VideoNuze-TDG Report podcast.
In this week's podcast Colin and I discuss NOW TV, which Sky, the big British satellite-based pay-TV operator, launched on Tuesday. Initially the service allows unbundled access to Sky Movies, a collection of around 600 early window movies, on either a monthly subscription or a la carte rental basis. The big breakthrough here is that traditionally Sky Movies was only available if you first subscribed to the basic service, which costs around 60 pounds/month.
Colin views the move as an attempt to re-start growth at Sky, moving the company beyond the approximately 10 million subscribers it has, mainly by appealing to broadband-only households. Clearly in NOW TV's cross-hairs are both Netflix and LoveFilm. More broadly, Colin and I discuss how NOW TV might or might not be a model for U.S. pay-TV operators to consider. I wrote earlier this week that with the cost of pay-TV service continuing to rise and consumers' expectations shifting, it's time for the industry to present more flexible pricing and packaging options to subscribers.
Listen in to learn more.
Click here to listen to the podcast (19 minutes, 36 seconds)
The Viacom-DirecTV carriage dispute has taken another odd turn, as full, current episodes of The Daily Show With Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report with Stephen Colbert are once again available at their respective sites and at Hulu. Given that digital distribution and its effect on Viacom's networks' linear ratings is a core issue in the negotiations, and that last week Viacom removed some of its networks' show from the web, the renewed availability of Comedy Central's stars Stewart and Colbert are hard to understand.
In fact, if you want a good chuckle, see the screen grabs below - when each of last night's episodes play, there is a message across the bottom of the page that reads "DIRECTV HAS DROPPED COMEDY CENTRAL. DON'T MISS YOUR FAVORITE SHOWS. CALL DIRECTV AT 1-800-531-5000." Hello?? I'm not missing my favorite shows - I'm watching them right now online, just above this urgent message! And by the way, I'm getting them for free, just after they originally aired, and fully on-demand. Does this make sense to you? Right, me neither.
One of the big side effects of the current Viacom-DirecTV and Dish-AMC carriage disputes has been a renewed questioning of the durability of the traditional multichannel TV bundle by many industry observers. But while outsiders and consumers may be looking for the pay-TV industry to reinvent the way it packages and prices its services, attending the NECTA cable industry conference last Friday was yet another reminder of how committed the industry is to preserving the multichannel TV model.
To be fair, for many households (particularly heavy viewers), multichannel service is optimal and a great value. But consumers aren't monolithic, and it's time for the pay-TV industry to get real about multichannel's limits. Operators' main approach continues to be promoting an entry level tier of digital TV that has grown ever more expensive (moderator Bruce Leichtman pegs the mean monthly spending on multichannel TV service at $78.63, 7% higher than in 2011). This has, in turn, created a well-documented affordability issue for the industry.
Since I read Dish Network's press release last month announcing its new Auto Hop feature, I've been scratching my head, wondering (like many others), what Dish's cryptic CEO Charlie Ergen was really thinking about with the move. Auto Hop is such a blatant poke in the eye to broadcasters' ad-based business model that Ergen surely knew it would evoke a legal and business response - as it has.
Therefore, I was hoping an article in last Friday's WSJ, based on the first interviews with Ergen about Auto Hop, would clarify his motivations. While some have called Auto Hop a negotiation tactic with broadcasters over retransmission consent fees (which, in part it is), rather, I think Ergen's larger message with Auto Hop is that the traditional TV ad model is irreparably broken and it's urgent the industry figure out what's next. Not doing so risks the ultimate unraveling of the great American broadcast TV industry.
Topics: Dish Network
I'm pleased to be joined once again by Colin Dixon, senior partner at The Diffusion Group, for the 126th edition of the VideoNuze Report podcast, for Mar. 23, 2012. This week finds Colin in London, providing him an even better perspective on our first topic this week, Sky's new over-the-top service called NOW TV, which it will launch this summer. Colin is bullish on NOW TV and likes the lessons it provides for U.S. pay-TV operators.
Here's just how expensive it has become to break into the pay-TV business: even mighty Microsoft can't afford it. Reuters reported late yesterday that Microsoft has put on hold its plan to create a pay-TV meets Netflix type subscription service, after getting sticker shock over the cost of content distribution deals. When you have $52 billion of cash and equivalents on your balance sheet and still can't figure out how to make the numbers work, that's a pretty significant statement about how expensive licensing linear content has become.