• FX Launches FX+ With Comcast; Is An SVOD A La Carte World Coming Into View?

    This morning, FX and Comcast announced FX+, an ad-free subscription video on demand service available to Xfinity TV subscribers for $5.99 per month. FX+ is quite comprehensive, including full current seasons of 17 different FX shows (e.g. “The Americans,” “Atlanta,” “Taboo,” etc.) along with library seasons of 16 current and prior shows (e.g. “The Shield,” “The League,” “Nip/Tuck,” etc.). In all, there will be over 1,100 episodes of FX programming available to subscribers.

    FX+ follows the recent announcement of AMC Premiere by AMC and Comcast, which is another ad-free SVOD service, available for $4.99 per month. However, AMC Premiere doesn’t include AMC’s deep library of popular programs, highlighted by “The Walking Dead,” “Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men,” while also including some original digital content. AMC Premiere’s shallow content selection suggests its success will be modest.

    On the other hand, with its deep library, FX+ feels more like CBS All Access, which Colin and I just discussed on last Friday's podcast, although the latter is distinguished by also including the linear feed and of course, NFL games (and note, the ad-free version of CBS All Access runs $10 per month). It’s also worth noting that a lot of the library content in FX+ is also currently available on Netflix (“Sons of Anarchy,” “American Horror Story,” “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” etc.). Until these are removed from Netflix, their duplicate availability diminishes the value of FX+.

    Stepping back, all of these services are meant to give super fans new choices in how they pay for and experience their favorite content. Given the rising popularity of ad-free viewing on services like Netflix and Amazon, they’re smart bets by networks to explore alternative delivery models.

    Although AMC Premiere and FX+ are being introduced in partnership with Comcast, there’s no doubt that AMC and FX are free to offer their services directly or through other distribution partners. In fact, by offering these services, Comcast is taking a page from Amazon’s highly successful Amazon Channels program, which currently offers access to over 100 SVOD choices. Comcast’s X1 enables the company to easily offer viewers this flexibility.

    It’s likely that over time both AMC and FX will be extremely tempted to partner with Amazon as well to gain access to its massive user base and promotional muscle. This would help Amazon continue nosing its way into the pay-TV business.

    More intriguing to consider is whether these SVOD initiatives offer a glimpse of a new SVOD a la carte model to be pursued by ad-supported broadcast and cable TV networks. Viewers have long sought a more individualized menu of programming choices, which the pay-TV industry has steadfastly resisted. But if more networks launch these SVOD services, with their library content, then viewers will in fact be able to pick and choose which networks/programming they want.

    Choosing multiple SVOD services can get expensive very quickly, but if there’s no friction to sign up and quickly drop the service and they come to viewed as more transactional, then churn would become a huge problem. However, an SVOD a la carte model would offer viewers huge control and therefore potentially exposes them to many different brands and content they may not have been familiar with.

    It continues to be a very dynamic world for traditional TV networks, which are seeing linear viewing decline, ad revenues under pressure, a shift to consumption of ad-free SVOD and the duopoly of Google/Facebook constantly upping marketers’ expectations. In this context, experimentation with new delivery models is critical. But where it will all ultimately lead is still completely unknown.