As stay at home guidelines remain in place, it seems like more and more free TV and video are being made available, spanning the short and long ends of the tail (meaning super-premium through user-generated) - and everything in between. Not only does this create more choices for viewers, which will be welcomed, it also means more competition for subscription video services which were already vulnerable to belt-tightening. And for free TV/video that is ad-supported, it means more inventory and choices for advertisers.
Here’s what’s caught my eye just in the past week:
AT&T is revamping its programming packages for DirecTV Now, and one thing that is clear is that HBO is returning to its traditional workhorse role in driving consumer appeal for a list of ad-supported TV networks.
According to Cord Cutters News, AT&T will introduce two new packages, DirecTV Now Plus and DirecTV Now Max for $50/month and $70/month respectively. Subscribers to current packages will be grandfathered in, but will see a $10/month rate increase, so the current entry level Live a Little package will move up to $50/month.
I’m pleased to present the 456th edition of the VideoNuze podcast, with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.
On this week’s podcast we cover 3 different topics. First, AT&T had a busy week - its deal for Time Warner was finally cleared after the DOJ’s appeal was rejected, both HBO CEO Richard Plepler and Turner president David Levy resigned, and a Variety report has Disney interested in buying AT&T’s 10% stake in Hulu. Colin and I discuss all of these and their implications.
Next, Colin weighs in on the new collaboration between the BBC and ITV to launch a version of BritBox in the U.K. and why it matters. Finally, another week, another YouTube content malefactor(s), leading to an advertiser pullback. We discuss how YouTube is playing whack-a-mole but that at the end of the day advertisers need YouTube and are unlikely to leave altogether.
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Click here to listen to the podcast (24 minutes, 47 seconds)
I’m pleased to present the 427th edition of the VideoNuze podcast, with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.
AT&T wants HBO to up its game - producing more content, gaining more subscribers and increasing engagement, in a bid to stay competitive in the streaming era. On today’s podcast, Colin and I explore why the new approach makes sense directionally, but also carries big risks. Can HBO scale up its production spending and broaden its distribution while retaining its brand positioning? It won’t be an easy feat.
While AT&T isn’t highlighting Netflix as its key competitor, it’s clearly implied. And this week’s Emmy nominations, which saw HBO eclipsed for the first time in 17 years as the most honored network (by Netflix), is a clear sign of the times. Astoundingly, Netflix has gone from just 14 nominations 6 years ago to an industry-leading 112 this year.
Beyond the HBO-Netflix content battle, Netflix continues raising the stakes on SVOD user experience. As we also dig into, this week Netflix announced “Smart Downloads,” a clever way of enhancing offline viewing, which will no doubt delight millions of its subscribers.
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Click here to listen to the podcast (24 minutes, 38 seconds)
Just weeks after closing its acquisition of Time Warner, AT&T has begun the process of revamping HBO’s traditional success formula, with Netflix envy apparently the main catalyst. According to a new NY Times article detailing a town hall meeting that Warner Media CEO John Stankey had with HBO employees, the new strategy boils down to wanting HBO to produce vastly more content with a goal of driving up engagement time and growth.
That sounds a lot like the formula that Netflix has employed for years, spending billions of dollars per year on scores of original programs in a global land grab for subscribers, while de-emphasizing profit maximization. Of course Wall Street has fallen in love with Netflix’s approach. Conversely, HBO has pursued a more limited “boutique” content strategy, with a few key marquee programs, while maximizing profitability.
New research from The Diffusion Group finds that 55% of all direct-to-consumer video subscriptions are being driven by Amazon Channels. As the chart below shows, for Showtime, Channels accounts for 72% of new subscriptions, for Starz 70% and for HBO 53%. Both HBO and Showtime reported record subscriber levels at the end of 2017 and the new TDG data underscores how pivotal Channels has been in the 2 premium networks’ revitalization.
Preliminary overnight numbers for the Oscars show an 18.9 rating in prime time, down 16% vs. 2017’s 22.4 rating. The overnight rating is a new record low for the Oscars, and importantly continues the dismal showing for 2018’s marquee TV events: Golden Globes (-5% vs. 2017), Super Bowl (-7% vs. 2017, worst in 9 years), Olympics (-7% vs. 2014, worst ever) and Grammys (-24% vs. 2017, worst in 9 years). Clearly TV’s biggest events are losing their luster.
There are always challenges particular to each event (e.g. Olympics time zone issues, Patriots fatigue, etc.). In the case of the Oscars, an ongoing problem is the disconnect between best picture winners and box office performance. A fascinating WSJ article on Friday detailed how only 4 best picture winners in the past 12 years have been among their year’s 25 highest-grossing movies, with none cracking the top 15. In the current era of superheroes, animation and franchise movies, thoughtful best picture nominees simply don’t draw the biggest audiences, in turn diminishing the Oscars’ relevance (2018 could be a quasi-exception with “Black Panther”).
I’m pleased to present the 408th edition of the VideoNuze podcast, with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.
Roku reported a strong Q4 ’17 holiday quarter this week as it continues to transition to an ad-based business model driven off its 19 million+ active users. Roku is in the middle of all of the industry key trends and Colin and I discuss the company’s results and how we see the business going forward.
We then turn to how HBO and Showtime have been revitalized by OTT delivery. 2017 results show how both traditional networks are using direct-to-consumer and new online distribution models to make their programming more easily accessible to viewers and achieve record subscribership. Their success is a textbook example of how OTT is shaking up longstanding industry norms.
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Click here to listen to the podcast (24 minutes, 2 seconds)
On yesterday’s Time Warner Q1 ’17 earnings call, HBO’s CEO Richard Plepler said that the company’s content licensing deal with Amazon would not be renewed and therefore would expire at the end of 2018. The deal was originally announced in April, 2014 and allowed Amazon to include iconic series like “The Sopranos,” “The Wire,” “Deadwood” and others in its Prime Video service.
Although Plepler cited “an acceleration in our digital business” as the reason for the decision, I believe that the more important driver at work is a repositioning of how the immensely valuable HBO will be used when AT&T’s acquisition of HBO parent Time Warner occurs later this year (assuming regulatory approval is granted, which I think is very likely).
Downloading video for offline playback continues to gain momentum with Showtime announcing late last week that it has enabled downloading of its entire roster of programs from its standalone subscription and TV Everywhere apps at no additional cost. Downloading is available on iOS and Android phones and tablets plus Amazon Fire tablets.
Loyal VideoNuze readers know that I’ve been an enthusiastic downloading proponent for 4 1/2 years, back to when I first experienced TiVo’s implementation of it via TiVo Stream. I immediately saw downloading as a killer app because it allowed high quality out-of-home viewing independent of shaky or non-existent WiFi hotspots and/or eating up expensive mobile data plans (if they could even support video streaming).
Recode reported a couple days ago that Apple is potentially looking to sell online subscriptions to HBO, Showtime and Starz in a single bundle to subscribers. Since Apple has made so little progress in video compared to its peers, a bundling move like this could give it a boost. But if I were handicapping which company is much more likely to sell HBO, Showtime and Starz in a discounted bundle - and succeed with it - I’d put my money on Amazon far sooner than Apple.
When HBO Now launched in April, 2015, its $14.99/month price was well above competing SVOD services such as Netflix ($11.99/month), Hulu (ad-free $11.99/month) and Amazon ($8.99/month or included with Prime for $99/year). On the one hand, an argument could be made that an HBO subscription is more valuable due to HBO’s rich library and therefore should be priced higher than newer competitors. But HBO’s market-skimming high price strategy means its more aggressively priced competitors are growing far faster than HBO, enabling them to have greater scale, which will be the key to future success.
When Sesame Workshop announced its deal with HBO last week, everyone seemed to have an opinion about whether another “poor door” had been created, this time for Elmo and his iconic friends.
It’s an interesting societal debate, but what was more intriguing to me was that Sesame’s deal with HBO signaled that its own SVOD efforts had not delivered material results (and with the new HBO deal, I’d guess will likely be phased out at some point). That in turn reinforced my belief that the niche SVOD model is extremely difficult given the rise of “super” SVOD services like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu.
I'm pleased to present the 279th edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.
Change is everywhere in the video and TV industries and this week 6 different news items hit our radar, which Colin and I think illustrate how quickly things are moving. In today's podcast we discuss each of them and why we think they're significant.
The items include continued falling linear TV ratings as measured by Nielsen, Hulu distributing Showtime, new research showing that Netflix's audience is size larger than those of broadcast TV networks, Tennis Channel's converged TV Everywhere-OTT model, HBO premiering 2 new shows on Facebook and Ooyala's new data showing that 42% of video views are now on mobile.
(note: Colin wanted to clarify one point - when citing Netflix viewership, he said it was 10 million hours streamed per quarter when it's actually 10 billion hours)
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In last Friday's podcast, Colin and I covered a lot of ground in assessing HBO Now's opportunities and risks. One of the points I raised, which I believe deserves much more attention in understanding HBO Now's disruptive potential, is how it threatens pay-TV's multi-billion dollar "sports tax" on non-fans.
I've been writing about the sports tax - how non-fans effectively subsidize the cost of super-expensive sports networks such as ESPN and regional sports networks (RSNs) that they don't watch - for almost 5 years now. In a back-of-the-envelope analysis I did following a panel I sat on with Mark Cuban back in 2011, I estimated the annual tax on non sports fans amounted to at least $2 billion per year (4 years later, it's now much higher).
I'm pleased to present the 264th edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia. In today's podcast we dig into HBO Now's big opportunities and big risks.
Colin and I agree that HBO has made a pretty aggressive bet with HBO Now. It is reasonably priced at $15/month and includes HBO's full library of original and licensed content. HBO partnered exclusively with Apple at launch, gaining the company's halo, and quite possibly very significant promotional support TBD (not to mention diverting from its traditional pay-TV operator partners).
Importantly, HBO Now gives viewers their first-ever opportunity to access HBO's iconic content without first having to subscribe to an expensive pay-TV service. This "buy-through" has effectively capped HBO's growth, while Netflix zipped past it. We explain why we believe this flexibility has potentially significant consequences for non-sports fans, in turn impacting both cord-cutting and cord-nevering.
There are so many fascinating angles to the HBO Now move. We cram in as much as we can, and will certainly be revisiting it as HBO Now launches in April.
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HBO's upcoming launch of its "HBO Now" OTT service is unquestionably one of the biggest variables for the future of the pay-TV ecosystem. Because of its marquee original content and ubiquitous brand, HBO is unique among all entertainment-oriented cable networks in having the power to attract millions of OTT subscribers.
While that's an opportunity for HBO, it's also a massive threat to the larger pay-TV industry. The ability to subscribe to HBO standalone will almost certainly make cord-cutting and cord-nevering a more appealing option for some viewers. HBO Now, coupled with other OTT options, like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, or even Sling TV (for ESPN fans in particular) would be very enticing.
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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Fortune broke the news yesterday that HBO has chosen to outsource the backend technology for its upcoming standalone OTT service to MLBAM, abandoning its own efforts to build the necessary technology. Just after the story broke, HBO's CTO Otto Berkes announced that he was leaving the company.
No question, MLBAM has a very strong technology solution, which it uses for its own streaming video offering, and it is used by other media companies as well. Still, it's hard not to see HBO's sudden shift as an early sign of the numerous challenges HBO has ahead of it in launching its OTT service (which is reportedly targeted for April, simultaneous with season 5 of "Game of Thrones").
Following HBO's announcement of HBO OTT last week, a lot of the media coverage has focused on how disruptive it will be to the pay-TV ecosystem. But on today's Comcast Q3 '14 earnings conference call, company executives threw cold water on these prospects, highlighting the challenges and risks that HBO faces in going direct to consumer.
Responding to analysts' questions, NBCU CEO Steve Burke said: