• Cable's Emmy Nominations Illustrate Cord-Cutting's Challenge

    Last week when the primetime Emmy award nominees were announced, cable programs turned in another strong performance, garnering 272 of the 487 nominations. The Emmys and other awards illustrate one of the key challenges for would-be cord-cutters: outside of per-program download options (e.g. iTunes) that will persist, in the coming TV Everywhere world, virtually none of cable's award-winning programming will be accessible online unless you subscribe to a cable/satellite/telco service provider. This is a critical fact in understanding how the broadband video world is going to unfold.

    One of the reasons TV Everywhere is so compelling is that it offers cable networks an on-ramp to online distribution while preserving their existing - and increasingly valuable - dual revenue (monthly affiliate fees and advertising) business model. As more content executives are concluding that advertising alone will not be sufficient for profitable long-form program distribution online, the payments cable networks receive from cable/satellite/telco providers is more valuable than ever. TV Everywhere's online access will inevitably lead to heavier viewership and enhanced loyalty.

    The Emmy nominations show the expanding breadth of cable's quality. As the below chart depicts, this year 26 different cable networks' programs were nominated, with HBO, the perennial leader picking up 99 nominations (it should be noted that last week HBO signed on to Comcast's On Demand Online technical trial, further entrenching HBO in the cable world, therefore dimming the notion that HBO will ever be available outside the traditional premium subscription model).


    Cable's strength is even better understood by looking at the major Emmy award categories. For example, in the outstanding drama series category, cable got 5 of 7 nominations (AMC-2, FX, HBO, Showtime). In the outstanding children's program category, cable got all 3 nominations (Disney Channel-2 and Nickelodeon). In the outstanding reality program series category, cable got 5 of 6 nominations (A&E, Bravo, Discovery-2, NGC). Even in outstanding comedy series, cable got 3 of 7 nominations (HBO-2, Showtime).

    When TV Everywhere gets fully rolled out, cable networks will have little-to-no incentive to make much of their programming available to non-paying video subscribers. That means that the Hulus of the world will have to content themselves with a catalog of broadcast programs, older movies and made-for-broadband series. As broadcast's Emmy nominations show, that still means there's plenty of popular content to drive online audience. But until Hulu figures out a subscription model, it (and its content suppliers) will be economically disadvantaged to cable both on-air and online. This is no small issue given each TV program episode now costs $2-3 million to produce.

    Meanwhile, consumers will make their own video choices. If they choose to cut the cord they won't have subscription-based online access to programs like Entourage, Weeds, MythBusters, Hannah Montana, Mad Men or Dexter, not to mention top-shelf sports from ESPN, TNT and others. For some people eager to cut the cord, that will be just fine. But I'm betting that for the majority of viewers that would be unacceptable and they'll continue to choose to subscribe. TV Everywhere can use cable programs' popularity to blunt cord-cutting before it ever takes off and cement cable's appeal in the broadband era.

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