Each week brings more innovation, product announcements and new business models to the ever-changing video industry. This week was certainly no different, and news from 3 companies - Google (a deal with CBS for its Unplugged skinny bundle), VUDU (a new ad-supported on-demand movie offering) and LeEco (a range of new products from the Chinese giant, including TVs and content) - caught my attention. Each has the potential to cause further industry disruption, or amount to nothing. Below I share thoughts on each.
Google signs CBS for its Unplugged skinny bundle
Yesterday afternoon the WSJ reported that Google has signed CBS for its skinny bundle and that it was either close to a deal or in advanced talks with 21st Century Fox, NBCU and Disney (ironically I actually read the news while at Google in NYC to speak at its internal Connected TV Summit). Google hasn’t received much attention for Unplugged as skinny bundle buzz has been dominated by Sling TV, Hulu, DirecTV Now and PlayStation Vue.
But Unplugged warrants some attention because the CBS deal suggests Google recognizes the critical importance of including broadcast TV in its skinny bundle. While I’m generally skeptical of skinny bundles, a low-cost offering that includes all 4 broadcast networks and select, high value cable networks, could find an audience. I’m not sure why Google would have any advantage over the others in obtaining these kinds of rights, but with its immense resources and flailing Google Fiber venture, the company could be looking for another inroad to the TV business.
VUDU launches Movies On Us, a free, ad-supported VOD offering
In an age where viewers are aggressively trying to avoid ads (e.g. SVOD, DVR ad-skipping, ad-blocking, etc.), launching an ad-supported movie service may seem somewhat incongruous. But Walmart, VUDU’s owner, targets value-oriented shoppers and a free service with stellar, if not necessarily the most up-to-date movies, could resonate.
While the paid VOD space has been relatively flat, there’s been a dearth of quality free, ad-supported movie options. And every day seems to bring a new paid SVOD service, despite the fact that most consumers are unlikely to ever subscribe to more than just a handful simultaneously. If VUDU can attract viewers for its Movies on Us service that could be a nice on-ramp for paid options, which is likely Walmart’s ultimate goal here anyway. Movies on Us is a contrarian bet, but still worth keeping an eye on.
LeEco storms into the U.S. market
Last but not least, Chinese tech conglomerate LeEco held a high-profile press conference on Wednesday, announcing new smartphones, a virtual reality headset, new TVs, content services and even an electric car and bicycle.
LeEco is an online video leader in China, offering 100K+ TV episodes and 5K films and now clearly wants to make a big splash in the U.S. promoting its ecosystem of devices, apps and services. The centerpiece is the “Ecosystem User Interface” which is meant to unite users’ experience with the LeEco ecosystem. The company announced partnerships with content providers including Lionsgate, MGM, Showtime, Vice, Awesomeness TV and A+E though it’s not clear how these are being integrated. It also announced the LeLIVE app for streaming TV channels.
The LeEco press release is chock full of hype and it’s far from clear there’s room in the U.S. market for another ecosystem provider given the strength of incumbents Apple, Google and Amazon. But LeEco is a deep-pocketed innovator and anything is possible.