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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Click here to listen to the podcast (24 minutes, 35 seconds)
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.
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.
Cord-cutting accelerated in 2015. Once again, It dominated headlines about the pay-TV industry, portending its imminent demise, as SVOD awareness and original content investments skyrocketed. But despite all of that, top Wall Street analyst Craig Moffett of MoffettNathanson (who has participated in many VideoNuze events) issued a bullish note this morning on cable TV operators’ prospects in 2016.
Craig’s analysis highlights the subtleties of the pay-TV industry’s dynamics that are too often glossed over in generic media coverage about cord-cutting’s ascent. The nub of his argument is that while the overall pay-TV industry is indeed pressured in many ways, cable operators’ distinct product and technology advantages vs. its primary competitors (satellite and telcos) have led to cable operators taking market share, helping insulate them from macro issues.
Categories: Cable TV Operators
U.S. pay-TV operators lost 31K video subscribers in Q1 '15, compared to a gain of 271K in Q1 '14, according to analysts MoffettNathanson. The loss was the first time the industry has ever lost subscribers in a first quarter, and signals an acceleration of cord-cutting (or cord-nevering, since it's hard to pull the two apart), contributing to a .5% industry contraction over the past 4 quarters (461K subscribers).
MoffettNathanson has always tried to put pay-TV results in context with both occupied housing net additions and new household net additions. In Q1, the former declined by 407K, but the latter increased by 1.3 million, suggesting around 900K households were added in the U.S. Despite the gain the industry still lost subscribers.
I'm pleased to present the 260th edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia. This week we dig into whether Sling TV's linear-only model can work. I believe Dish and Sling TV deserve a lot of credit for trying to innovate the pay-TV experience, and in certain key respects like the sign-up process, pricing and slimmer bundles, Sling TV distinguishes itself.
But, as I wrote yesterday, Sling TV's linear-only viewing model seems completely misaligned for its broadband-only millennial target audience. Well-loved features like VOD, DVR, binge-viewing and ad-skipping are missing from Sling TV. Using Sling TV (regardless of its availability on connected and mobile devices) feels like a throwback to 5+ years ago.
Colin is slightly more sanguine about Sling TV, though he too believes it's not a fit for millennials. Rather, he thinks there could be a small market for it among existing pay-TV subscribers (of course something Sling TV is loath to do).
It's quite possible that today's Sling TV is just a gen one version and key on-demand/DVR features will be added. These are critical for Sling TV to succeed.
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I'm pleased to present the 255th edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.
First up this week we assess the prospects for Dish Network's upcoming Sling TV OTT service, which Colin and I each wrote about earlier this week (here and here). We both see Sling TV's slim programming selection as its biggest challenge. Dish is confronting the challenge that both broadcast and cable TV networks are very expensive to carry and so, to the extent Dish wants to keep Sling TV as affordable as possible, it must severely limit what's included.
We then recap some of the news out of CES that caught our attention including several announcements around 4K TV, the Cisco-Charter partnership for cloud delivery/security and FCC chairman Tom Wheeler's plan to regulate broadband under Title II.
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Dish Network has finally announced its OTT virtual pay-TV operator ("vPop") service, dubbed "Sling TV," priced at $20/month and available in Q1 '15 on multiple connected and mobile devices.
Sling TV includes 12 linear cable TV networks from Disney (ESPN, ESPN2, Disney Channel and ABC Family, plus a feed of Maker Studios' videos), Turner (Cartoon Network, CNN, TBS, TNT and Adult Swim) and Scripps (Food Network, HGTV and Travel Channel). Beyond the obvious missing cable TV networks, none of the big 4 broadcast TV networks are included.
In addition to the $20/month tier, Sling TV is also offering two $5/month packages - one for kids (with Disney Junior, Disney XD, Boomerang, Baby TV and Duck TV) and one with news and information (with HLN, Cooking Channel, DIY and Bloomberg TV).
With time ticking away to December 31st, it's looking increasingly questionable whether Dish Network is going to meet its self-imposed year-end deadline to launch its $30/month virtual pay-TV service ("vPop"). Dish's chairman Charlie Ergen, reiterated the company's commitment to the year-end deadline in his Q3 '14 earnings call comments.
But he also lowered expectations for the new service, citing numerous technical and operational challenges. I think it's fair to add to that list significant programming challenges, which always existed and have no doubt only increased given Dish's recent and current skirmishes with big TV networks.
Topics: Dish Network
I'm pleased to present the 253rd edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.
Colin gets us started this week, discussing the new CBS-Dish Network deal, highlighting that OTT rights were excluded. This is noteworthy because of Dish's plans to launch a $30/month OTT service soon (dubbed "NuTV"), so it's not clear if or how CBS will fit in (CBS has recently launched its own "All Access" OTT service).
There have been previous reports Dish isn't planning to include broadcast networks in NuTV, instead requiring a surcharge. All of this continues to make me skeptical about NuTV's prospects. Note that even CEO Charlie Ergen has tamped down expectations for NuTV.
We then turn our attention to HBO's decision to outsource its OTT backend to MLBAM, as disclosed by Fortune this week. On Wednesday, I wrote that while MLBAM's solution is first rate, and it's a short-term win for HBO to get to market quickly, I still see the decision as a long-term competitive disadvantage for HBO. In my view, HBO needs to develop its own tech DNA to fully compete with Netflix and other OTT players, particularly in leveraging data, which I believe is the new king. Colin disagrees and thinks HBO made the right call.
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Dish Network has been very public about its interest in launching an over-the-top pay-TV service (a virtual pay-TV operator or "vPop") this year. But on Dish's Q3 '14 earnings call yesterday, company chairman Charlie Ergen provided an update on its progress, tamping down short-term expectations for the vPop service and its likely market impact. More importantly, as I explain below, Ergen's comments highlight some of the vPop's conflicting goals and significant challenges.
Following are Ergen's initial comments on the call about the vPop service (from the transcript at Seeking Alpha), in which he speaks candidly about the complexity and uncertainty involved with the launch:
I'm pleased to present the 245th edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.
Today we debate the odds of success for so-called "vPops," or virtual pay-tv operators - companies looking to deliver pay-TV services over-the-top. I expand on some of the points I made earlier this week for why I think the odds are against vPops succeeding. Fundamentally this comes down vPops' inability to cost-effectively access programming and package it in an appealing way to gain market interest.
Colin sees it very differently, believing vPops CAN create skinnier bundles of channels and successfully target highly specific cord-nevers, cord-cutters and even some existing pay-TV subscribers. Colin believes these bundles can be created at a $30 retail price point and include a compelling array of channels. He also sees room for vPops to offer full channel line-ups at lower cost than today's pay-TV operators, complete with lots of user experience enhancements.
It's a great debate and we're both eager to see what vPops actually DO come to market with over the next 6-9 months to see how things turn out.
Lately there's been a lot of talk about so-called "virtual pay-TV operators," (vPops as my partner Colin Dixon at nScreenMedia likes to call them), which are also called "virtual MVPDs" (multichannel video programming distributors). These are companies that will deliver linear and on-demand broadcast/cable TV network bundles from the cloud, over broadband to connected/mobile devices, offering an alternative to traditional pay-TV services.
Sony, Verizon and Dish Network have all publicly stated their interest in launching vPop services in either 2014 or 2015. Though it's still early and much is yet to be known about their actual offerings, there are already many reasons to be skeptical that they'll achieve any material success.
EchoStar, which is DISH Network's main technology partner, has selected Conviva to guarantee video quality of DISH Network's 2 main TV Everywhere services, DISH Anywhere and DishWorld. The former provides live and on-demand access to DISH's programming while the latter is focused on international programming delivered online.
EchoStar will use Conviva's Intelligent Control Platform to optimize streaming video quality in real-time, on a per user basis. Conviva's platform monitors stream quality at an the individual user level, anticipating problems and preemptively optimizing by adjusting the bitrate, content delivery network and other parameters. An analytics suite gives content providers insight into the performance and viewership of their video.
I attended the D: Dive Into Media conference earlier this week for the first time. It is mainly a series of one-on-one interviews with senior executives from a variety of media and technology companies, plus networking. Overall it was a great conference, and it's hard to beat a couple of days in beautiful Dana Point, CA, especially when coming off a blizzard in Boston.
My main interest was the video-related sessions, and from those I had 6 takeaways which I share below (along with selected session video clips), in no particular order:
Is online video its own medium, or is it a farm league for those aspiring to make the transition to the majors of traditional TV? This has been a persistent question for years, and has gained more attention as numerous big-name celebrities have begun creating online-only originals. Are these stars committed to online video, or is it just a stepping stone to the conventional TV world they know so well and have benefiting from so greatly?
No doubt, the question will be re-visited anew, as former Fox News host - and current online video star - Glenn Beck has announced this morning a new distribution deal with Dish Network for his online network TheBlazeTV, along with the intention to pursue other pay-TV carriage deals. Regardless of what you think of his politics, Beck's move back into pay-TV, leveraging his success online, will surely be viewed as a template by others looking to make a similar leap.
One of the big side effects of the current Viacom-DirecTV and Dish-AMC carriage disputes has been a renewed questioning of the durability of the traditional multichannel TV bundle by many industry observers. But while outsiders and consumers may be looking for the pay-TV industry to reinvent the way it packages and prices its services, attending the NECTA cable industry conference last Friday was yet another reminder of how committed the industry is to preserving the multichannel TV model.
To be fair, for many households (particularly heavy viewers), multichannel service is optimal and a great value. But consumers aren't monolithic, and it's time for the pay-TV industry to get real about multichannel's limits. Operators' main approach continues to be promoting an entry level tier of digital TV that has grown ever more expensive (moderator Bruce Leichtman pegs the mean monthly spending on multichannel TV service at $78.63, 7% higher than in 2011). This has, in turn, created a well-documented affordability issue for the industry.
Since I read Dish Network's press release last month announcing its new Auto Hop feature, I've been scratching my head, wondering (like many others), what Dish's cryptic CEO Charlie Ergen was really thinking about with the move. Auto Hop is such a blatant poke in the eye to broadcasters' ad-based business model that Ergen surely knew it would evoke a legal and business response - as it has.
Therefore, I was hoping an article in last Friday's WSJ, based on the first interviews with Ergen about Auto Hop, would clarify his motivations. While some have called Auto Hop a negotiation tactic with broadcasters over retransmission consent fees (which, in part it is), rather, I think Ergen's larger message with Auto Hop is that the traditional TV ad model is irreparably broken and it's urgent the industry figure out what's next. Not doing so risks the ultimate unraveling of the great American broadcast TV industry.
Topics: Dish Network
At the recent Cable Show, I had the great pleasure of doing a video interview with Craig Moffett, who is SVP and senior telecom, cable and satellite TV analyst at the investment firm Sanford Bernstein. Craig is likely the most widely-followed Wall Street analyst of the pay-TV industry - both video and broadband - and someone whose work I have long respected.
Craig generously spent almost 45 minutes sharing his views on practically every pressing industry issue. A key recurring theme: that the pay-TV industry is so "ossified" and inflexible that true innovation with TV can only come from outside the industry. I have split the interview into 2 video segments below. For anyone who wants to better understand where the pay-TV and online video industries are heading, and what the key drivers are, I highly recommend these.
In Part 1, we discuss:
- Pay-TV industry's overall health
- Why cable isn't really a video business, but rather an infrastructure business
- The truth about cord-cutting and cord-shaving
- What role online original programs will have with younger "cord-never" viewers
- Why young people already think of pay-TV as a luxury service and settle for "good enough" alternatives
- How expensive sports programming is driving pay-TV's affordability challenge
- What will happen with Aereo
- And more
In Part 2, we discuss:
- The role of usage-based pricing by broadband ISPs
- Why the threat of Netflix is far lower today than a year ago
- Nickelodeon's ratings problem and the role of Netflix in creating it
- Whether cable networks will cut back licensing to OTT operators
- What will happen with Dish Network's Auto Hop feature
- Why TV Everywhere will remain on a slow rollout
- What disruptive roles Google and Apple might play
- And more
I'm pleased to be joined once again by Colin Dixon, senior partner at The Diffusion Group, for the 133rd edition of the VideoNuze Report podcast, for May 18, 2012. This week's topic: Dish Network's new "Auto Hop" feature, which automatically skips ads in DVR-recorded broadcast TV.
Topics: Dish Network