• Why An Amazon Skinny Bundle Seems All But Inevitable

    Although there are already 5 major skinny bundles in the market - DirecTV Now, Hulu With Live TV, PlayStation Vue, Sling TV and YouTube TV - it seems all but inevitable that a 6th will emerge, from Amazon, which could be the most disruptive one yet. While I continue to be skeptical about how big the market for skinny bundles currently is, Amazon has a number of unique attributes that could both enlarge the potential audience and change the current competitive dynamics.

    It’s no secret that video is already one of Amazon’s biggest priorities. Video has turned into a significant subscriber acquisition and retention driver for its all-important Prime service, which is why the company is spending between $4-5 billion on content this year. Of this, $50 million will go to the NFL for rights to stream Thursday night games. Amazon has also become a major connected TV device player with its line of Fire TVs and Fire TV Sticks and as of yesterday with its new 4K Amazon Fire TV Edition TVs.

    Last but not least is Amazon Channels, which offers access to over 100 different SVOD services. As one measure of its succes, HBO’s CEO cited the “enormous momentum” with Amazon Channels that led the premium cable network to not renew its content licensing deal with Prime Video.

    But the one area Amazon still doesn’t have a foothold in is multichannel TV subscriptions. In fact, the pay-TV multichannel video business generates tens of billions of dollars in annual subscriber fees for traditional cable, satellite and telco operators. As has been widely reported, cord-cutting sharply increased in Q1 ’17, the clearest sign yet that consumers are getting frustrated with pay-TV’s high cost and its bloated channel lineups as they shift their consumption to SVOD.

    Amazon thrives on disrupting big established markets with its customer-first model of low cost, low margins and lots of choice. Other skinny bundles have already paved the way for broadcast and cable TV networks to do deals with skinny bundles, which Amazon will capitalize on. Some of these same networks already partner with Amazon Channels for their SVOD services and therefore have seen Amazon’s potent marketing muscle. The prospect of Amazon driving new skinny bundle subscribers will be tantalizing.

    Importantly, if it chose to, Amazon could use its deep financial resources to experiment with offering a version of a la carte programming that consumers crave (at least according to research), but which big TV network groups are reluctant to enable. In other words, Amazon could potentially pay for channels it didn’t automatically bundle for consumers, for the purpose of offering more flexible choices. Because Amazon is ultimately focused on e-commerce, if it could prove to itself that flexible channel packages could drive Prime memberships and purchasing (as it found video itself does), then it could actually be worthwhile to Amazon to pay for content even if consumers don’t necessarily choose it.

    With its vast trove of customer data, it could promote content choices more broadly and effectively than any of the other 5 incumbents. It could leverage Prime to drive the monthly cost even lower than today’s norms if it chose to, putting financial pressure on the others. It could package its skinny bundle with Amazon Fire TVs. It could also offer lower rates on SVOD services in Channels to skinny bundle subscribers. Amazon also has a robust advertising business that it has yet to introduce into its video business.

    In short, Amazon has many different ways to approach the skinny bundle decision and turn itself into an appealing new pay-TV provider and a valuable partner to TV networks. Of course other skinny bundles have their own advantages (YouTube TV leverages YouTube’s massive audience, Hulu With Live TV includes its SVOD library, etc.).

    It’s still way too early to handicap how the skinny bundle free for all will sort itself out. But Amazon could substantially change the dynamics not just in skinny bundles but in the broader TV landscape. For all of these reasons, it’s critical to keep a close eye on the company.