CTV Ad Summit - leaderboard - 1-10-20

Analysis for 'Sling TV'

  • Charter’s New Skinny Bundle Will Have Narrow Appeal and Limited Long-Term Value

    Last week Charter, the second-largest U.S. cable TV operator, announced plans to launch “Spectrum TV Essentials,” a $15/month package of 60+ entertainment channels. According to Charter’s press release, Spectrum TV Essentials will be “made available exclusively in Charter’s footprint to Spectrum Internet customers who don’t already subscribe to Spectrum video services.” This means targeting broadband-only subscribers who have either cut the cord or never subscribed. It’s unclear how Charter will handle a prospect looking to downgrade from an existing multichannel TV bundle to Charter’s new skinny bundle (or “virtual pay-TV service,” as these bundles are often called).

    Regardless, the way Spectrum TV Essentials is currently constructed/priced it is likely to have relatively narrow appeal and limited long-term value. It can be compared most to Philo TV, another inexpensive entertainment-only service. Charter has agreements with Viacom, Discovery, A&E, AMC and Hallmark to carry their networks, but NOT CBS, Disney, Fox, NBCUniversal or Turner, at least currently. So a ton of popular TV networks/programs will be missing, raising, once again the “Swiss cheese” problem of inexpensive skinny bundles that have too many holes in their programming lineups to have broad appeal. Such is the nature of striving to keep subscriber rates low; many expensive networks must be excluded.

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  • VideoNuze Podcast #451: Sling TV and Hulu Offer SVOD Services; NBCU to Launch DTC

    I’m pleased to present the 451st edition of the VideoNuze podcast, with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.

    First up this week we talk about Sling TV’s new initiative to promote third party SVOD services, including to consumers who aren’t  subscribers to its underlying virtual pay-TV service. Colin and I differ about its potential and whether Sling TV has “permission” to pursue this. We debate the upside of a separate new Sling TV initiative to provide a layer of free on-demand content. We also dig into Hulu’s new emphasis on SVOD aggregation which seems promising to both of us.

    We then shift to discussing NBCUniversal’s plan to launch its own direct-to-consumer (DTC) service for non pay-TV subscribers. Colin is somewhat underwhelmed, while I think it’s a step in the right direction and too early to tell how aggressive the offer will turn out to be.  

    Less than 3 weeks into the new year, it’s clear that big video providers are continuing to experiment and jockey for position.

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  • VideoNuze Podcast #448: The Top 10 Video Stories of 2018

    I’m pleased to present the 448th edition of the VideoNuze podcast, with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.

    Continuing our tradition for our final podcast of the year, this week Colin and I discuss the top 10 video stories of 2018 - at least in our humble opinions. Once again it has been a very active 12 months, with lots of innovation and change. Colin and I have had a great time analyzing and discussing the critical industry trends each week and we hope you’ve enjoyed listening to our thoughts in 2018.

    Let us know what you think of our choices, whether you agree or disagree!

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  • VideoNuze Podcast #445: Exploring Pay-TV’s Record High Subscriber Losses

    I’m pleased to present the 445th edition of the VideoNuze podcast, with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.

    On this week’s podcast Colin and I explore the pay-TV industry’s record high video subscriber losses sustained in Q3 ’18 (more here and here). The two big satellite services, DirecTV and Dish Network were major contributors. But perhaps more important was a dramatic slowdown in subscriber additions for the two biggest virtual pay-TV operators, Sling TV and DirecTV Now.

    As we discuss, with these virtual services in flux and not stanching the bleeding of traditional multichannel TV, the critical underlying trends of cord-cutting and cord-nevering burst onto full display in Q3. Meanwhile, the strategies and success of virtual services like YouTube TV, Hulu Live and others is murky at best. All of this shows how unstable the pay-TV industry as a whole currently is.

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  • Pay-TV’s Q3 Stumble: This is What a World Without Aggressive Skinny Bundles Looks Like

    Pay-TV operators took a drubbing in Q3 ’18 as the boost the industry has gotten from consumers migrating to virtual MVPDs or “skinny bundles” mostly evaporated. According to Leichtman Research Group, the industry as a whole lost about 975K traditional subscribers (its worst ever). Subtracting estimated gains for skinny bundles the Q3 loss would have topped a million.

    Going back just one quarter to Q2 ’18, the industry as a whole (both traditional pay-TV and skinny bundles) may have actually eked out a net subscriber gain, as traditional subscribers “cord-shifted” to skinny bundles. But in Q3 that short trend came to screeching halt, as both DirecTV Now and Sling TV additions slid dramatically. In Q3 ’18 the services combined to add just 75K subscribers, down from 536K a year earlier (and that’s on top of escalating subscriber losses at the core satellite services). It’s not clear how other skinny bundles performed in Q3 as they don’t publicly report their numbers.

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  • Why Google, AT&T and Disney Are Now the Most Important Players in Pay-TV

    For all the talk about cord-cutting over the years, the most important trend in pay-TV these days isn’t consumers dropping out entirely, but rather shifting from traditional multichannel services to lower-priced virtual MVPDs or “skinny bundles.”

    The trend of skinny bundle gains offsetting  multichannel losses continued again in Q2 ’18 where, according to Leichtman Research Group, the top traditional services lost approximately 800K subscribers. But just the 2 publicly-reporting skinny bundles, Sling TV and DirecTV Now, gained 383K (with the latter accounting for 342K).

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  • VideoNuze Podcast #431: Sling TV is Sliding, CBS is Accelerating

    I’m pleased to present the 431st edition of the VideoNuze podcast, with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.

    It’s been Q2 earnings season, which provides a valuable opportunity to check in on how different companies’ OTT strategies are flowing through to their financial performance. On today’s podcast Colin and I talk about two companies whose OTT fortunes are moving in opposite directions.

    Moving the wrong way is Dish and its Sling TV skinny bundle. Sling TV was the first to market in the category several years ago. Though it quickly gained over 2 million subscribers, growth slowed to just 41K additions last quarter as others boomed. As Colin and I discuss, a key weakness in its service is the lack of broadcast channels. The other big skinny bundles, YouTube TV, Hulu Live and DirecTV Now have all decided to pay top dollar to include them, which is helping fuel their growth. Sling TV is at a competitive disadvantage requiring subscribers to install antennas which many people can’t or won’t do.

    All broadcasters are benefiting from the shift to skinny bundles, but CBS’s Q2 results show that its OTT success extends further, to direct-to-consumer, targeted advertising and SVOD production, as well. CBS is benefiting from decisions it made years ago to retain digital rights (most famously by not joining Hulu), even though it wasn’t clear back then how the monetization of them would fully unfold.

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  • VideoNuze Podcast #426: Magid’s Cord-Cutting Research; Sling TV Updates

    I’m pleased to present the 426th edition of the VideoNuze podcast, with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.

    First up on this week’s podcast, we discuss Magid’s latest research showing another uptick in cord-cutting intent among pay-TV subscribers, especially for millennials. Even sports fans are now considering cutting the cord. Perhaps most surprising, cost is no longer the main motivator; it’s not watching enough TV to make it worth it.

    That’s indicative of more pay-TV subscribers shifting their viewership to SVOD, and suggesting an opportunity for low-cost virtual pay-TV operators to gain momentum. One such player, Sling TV just made some interesting updates to its service this week which we discuss.

    I think the Magid research is part of the reason why we need to revise how we talk about cord-cutting. Increasingly, I think an equally, if not more appealing, option for prospective cord-cutters will be downgrading to a skinny bundle, rather than dropping entirely. More on this on VideoNuze soon.


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  • Traditional Pay-TV Subscriber Loss in Q1 Slows to 305K

    Traditional pay-TV operators accounting for around 95% of the market lost 305K subscribers in Q1 ’18, compared to 515K in Q1 ’17 according to Leichtman Research Group. The loss is net of 405K Sling TV and DirecTV Now skinny bundle subscribers gained in the quarter by Dish and DirecTV, compared to 265K added in Q1 ’17. Backing out the skinny bundle gains, traditional pay-TV lost 710K subscribers in Q1 ’18 vs. a loss of 710K in Q1 ’17.

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  • Rethinking Skinny Bundles and Their Impact on Pay-TV

    VideoNuze readers know I’ve long been skeptical about the value proposition of virtual multichannel video programming distributors (“vMVPDs”) or “skinny bundles” as they’re commonly known. But as I touched on in last Friday’s podcast, based on some significant changes over the past year, I’m becoming more optimistic about skinny bundles’ prospects and their broader impact on pay-TV.

    To take a step back, 3 main concerns have driven my skepticism about skinny bundles: (1) their incomplete channel lineups (the “Swiss cheese” challenge of too many holes, or missing TV networks) which reduces their appeal relative to pay-TV’s traditional multichannel lineups, (2) the dubious profitability of skinny bundles, especially given underlying programming costs, which raises the question of just how committed the big parent companies of skinny bundles are to them, and (3) viewers’ migration away from linear TV in favor of SVOD, which is driving up cord-cutting.

    Here’s what’s changed:

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  • Comcast Adds Sling TV International Content to X1

    Comcast is continuing to add programming choices to its X1 set-top boxes, this morning announcing that the Sling TV international app will be made available. Sling TV international offers live and on-demand streaming of over 395 different networks, spanning 21 different languages. Pricing starts at $10 per month and new users can sign up on X1.

    The addition of Sling TV international follows Comcast adding Netflix, YouTube, Pandora and NPR One to X1 over the past 6 months. Because X1 has a broadband connection and can run apps, it’s critical to Comcast’s strategy of bridging online content with traditional TV content. Late last year Comcast also announced deals with AMC and FX to offer subscription, ad-free services from both networks, exclusively for X1 subscribers.

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  • Research: Exploring Skinny Bundles’ Momentum with TDG’s Michael Greeson

    Virtual Multichannel Video Programming Distributors (“vMVPDs”) or “skinny bundles” have become a very hot topic in the video industry. Offering fewer TV networks and at a lower monthly price they’re seen as a way of keeping cord-cutters in the ecosystem while attracting cord-nevers. To learn more about the dynamics of vMVPDs, industry research firm (and long-time VideoNuze partner) The Diffusion Group recently completed a comprehensive study of vMVPD subscribers. I interviewed Michael Greeson, TDG’s president and director of research, to learn more.

    VideoNuze: From a top-line perspective, what are the most important takeaways from your research?

    Michael Greeson: First and foremost, while these services are successfully connecting with cord-cutters, they are entirely missing out with cord-nevers. Cord-cutters account for 54% of total vMVPD subs. The consumers were largely driven from legacy services by high service costs and paying having to pay for channels they don’t watch, and vMVPD services appear to better address these needs.

    Cord-nevers, on the other hand, account for only 9% of vMVPD subs—clear evidence that these offerings are failing to resonate with younger buyers. And for good reason: cord-nevers are largely driven by a genuine lack of interest in multi-channel pay-TV services. They prefer a ‘build it yourself’ service that allows them to select and pay for only the channels they want, versus signing up for a bundle of channels.

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  • VideoNuze Podcast #400: The Top 10 Online Video Stories of 2017

    I'm pleased to present the 400th edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.

    In this week’s podcast Colin and I discuss our top 10 online video stories of 2017. It’s been another incredibly busy year with tons of industry innovation and progress. As always, it has been a lot of fun to analyze all of this and report on it. Let us know what you think of our choices, whether you agree or disagree!

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    Unless there’s some big news, this will be my last post for 2017.

    Happy Holidays to all!

     
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  • Can An Entertainment-Centric Skinny Bundle Succeed?

    Can an entertainment-centric skinny bundle succeed? That question will be answered soon when a new service including TV networks from Discovery, Viacom, AMC, A+E and Scripps launches, according to a recent WSJ report. The service will be called “Philo” which is the same name as the technology provider that will power it.

    Skinny bundles have received a huge amount of attention over the past couple of years as a lower cost approach the pay-TV industry is using to retain would-be cord-cutters. However, skinny bundles have faced the vexing question of whether to include expensive sports networks in their offers, which in turn pressure already minuscule profit margins.

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  • Broadcast TV Poised to Play Bigger Role in Skinny Bundles’ Success

    The competitive dynamics among skinny bundles are still developing, but one thing is becoming increasingly clear: including a full array of broadcast TV channels in all of the biggest U.S. markets, and even many of the smaller ones, will be table stakes. It seems as if a week doesn’t pass these days without one of the five major skinny bundles announcing a new carriage deal for certain broadcast channels in a variety of local markets.

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  • Is There Any Rhyme or Reason for Which TV Networks are Included in Skinny Bundles?

    Here’s a Monday morning brain teaser to consider: is there any rhyme or reason for which TV networks are being included in skinny bundles like Sling TV, DirecTV Now, YouTube TV and soon Hulu? If there is, it’s hard to discern what it is. In fact, the composition of skinny bundles is getting more puzzling all the time.

    For instance, last Friday, Hulu announced that it had reached a distribution deal with A+E Networks for its forthcoming skinny bundle. The deal followed previously announced ones with Hulu’s corporate parents Fox, Disney and Turner, plus CBS. But just a couple weeks ago, when YouTube TV was announced, it didn’t include A+E Networks (nor Turner, Viacom, Discovery, AMC or Scripps), though it did include CBS, Disney, Fox and NBCU.

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  • VideoNuze Podcast #354: Interview with Sling TV’s Chief Product Officer Ben Weinberger

    I’m pleased to present the 354th edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.

    This week Colin and I interview Sling TV’s chief product officer Ben Weinberger. We’ve known Ben for many years from when he was CEO and founder of Digitalsmiths, which was acquired by TiVo.

    As loyal listeners know, we’ve discussed “skinny bundles” like Sling TV many times on the podcast and so the interview was a great opportunity to get Ben’s views on the category in general and how Sling TV specifically is doing. We discussed many different topics, including the role of broadcast TV networks and antennas, sports and regional sports networks, how subscribers use the service on different devices, how Sling TV fits with SVOD services and much more.

    Importantly, Ben talks a lot about Sling TV’s value propositions including offering more choices and flexible packages. We wrap up with Ben sharing his views on where the market is heading over the next few years.

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  • Hulu Gets Fox and Disney Networks, But Live Broadcasts are a Challenge as World Series Shows

    Hulu announced yesterday that it has struck deals with 21st Century Fox and Disney for access to over 35 different TV networks for Hulu’s skinny bundle, slated to launch in early 2017. The agreements are no surprise given Fox and Disney are Hulu’s two primary investors, along with Comcast (which has a back seat role per restrictions related to its NBCU acquisition) and Time Warner, which recently took a 10% stake in Hulu.

    But the devil is in the details, because when it comes to Hulu’s ability to include live broadcast feeds in its skinny bundle, the Fox and Disney deals only get it a small part of the way. Fox owns 17 stations around the country and Disney owns just 8. Since there are 210 DMAs in the U.S. that means Hulu needs to strike agreements with lots of different local station owners to enable a standardized nationwide skinny bundle offer including local broadcast feeds.

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  • VideoNuze Podcast #318: SVOD Dominated by Big Three; Sling TV’s Confusing New Fox Tier

    I'm pleased to present the 318th edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.

    First up this week Colin and I dive into the Parks data from yesterday revealing that just 5% of US broadband homes subscribe to one or more of the 98 SVOD services other than the big three (Netflix, Amazon and Hulu). We agree that the data underscores just competitive it will be for the 98 and growing) minnow SVOD services to breakthrough.

    One of those 98 services is Sling TV, which this week announced the beta of a new $20/month multi-stream service that includes select Fox networks. While Colin believes it’s a smart move by Sling TV to further segment the market, I view it as both confusing and also counter to Sling TV’s brand proposition, at least as it’s currently offered.

    By separating the Fox networks and ESPN networks on 2 different tiers, Sling TV is in effect forcing sports fans to take both. That means $40/month for just the 2 base packages, and, as best I can tell there are 22 other networks that are duplicated in both tiers (meaning dual subscribers are in effect paying twice for them).

    It’s hard to see how this represents breakthrough value and simplification of TV. Rather it just seems like unnecessary confusion, likely driven by Disney and Fox licensing restrictions to hedge against Sling TV becoming too popular.

    Listen now to learn more!

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  • Putting Sling TV’s Growth Into Perspective

    Skinny bundle service Sling TV got a lot of press last week as parent company Dish Network reported its Q4 ’15 and full year results. Based on a lot of assumptions, analysts MoffettNathanson estimated that Sling TV ended the year with 523K subscribers. Meanwhile, the WSJ cited unnamed sources estimating Sling TV now has more than 600K subscribers.

    Once again, Dish Network provided no detailed breakout on Sling TV’s subscriber growth. As many analysts have observed, that’s a deliberate strategy to obscure the subscriber losses occurring in Dish’s core direct satellite service. On the earnings call, Sling TV’s CEO Roger Lynch only said that the vast majority of Sling TV subscribers are not currently pay-TV subscribers, noting they were either cord-nevers or cord-cutters.

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