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.
Categories: Skinny Bundles
Advertising, subscriptions, or both? All video providers are currently grappling with the fundamental question of what business model to pursue. With the cost of producing high-quality video and the challenge of attracting and audience more daunting than ever, deciding which path to follow has taken on increasing urgency.
But if the stakes are higher, so too is the murkiness, especially when it comes to what consumers will pay for. Just because Netflix has 50 million U.S. subscribers doesn’t mean getting to a million is straightforward for an SVOD wannabe.
Another day, another high-profile - and no doubt incredibly expensive - SVOD talent deal announced. Today’s is between Netflix and the ultra-successful producer Shonda Rhimes, poaching her from ABC, where she’d been for 15 years. For Netflix, it followed last week’s deals with the Coen brothers for a new series and the company’s first acquisition, of Millarworld, plus many others.
While Netflix has been busily announcing new originals - no doubt timed to offset the fallout from Disney’s decision not to renew its pay-1 output deal upon expiration in 2019 - Amazon hasn’t been sitting still. Last week the company lured Robert Kirkman, creator of the blockbuster “The Walking Dead” series on AMC in an exclusive 2-year deal. That followed recent deals for many other originals, with a heavy emphasis on kids shows. And don’t forget Hulu, which is coming off its biggest original success to date with “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
By now we’re all familiar with the 3 big announcements Disney made yesterday: 1) a plan to launch its own entertainment-focused SVOD service, in turn sunsetting in 2019 its Netflix licensing deal for Disney/Pixar content, 2) a plan to launch an ESPN OTT service and 3) spending $1.58 billion to buy another 42% of BAMTech and take control of that business.
Focusing on Disney’s entertainment SVOD service it looks pretty clear now that by signing the original December, 2012 licensing deal with Netflix, Disney blew a big strategic opportunity to get in front of the trend toward direct-to-consumer online distribution.
This morning, FX and Comcast announced FX+, an ad-free subscription video on demand service available to Xfinity TV subscribers for $5.99 per month. FX+ is quite comprehensive, including full current seasons of 17 different FX shows (e.g. “The Americans,” “Atlanta,” “Taboo,” etc.) along with library seasons of 16 current and prior shows (e.g. “The Shield,” “The League,” “Nip/Tuck,” etc.). In all, there will be over 1,100 episodes of FX programming available to subscribers.
FX+ follows the recent announcement of AMC Premiere by AMC and Comcast, which is another ad-free SVOD service, available for $4.99 per month. However, AMC Premiere doesn’t include AMC’s deep library of popular programs, highlighted by “The Walking Dead,” “Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men,” while also including some original digital content. AMC Premiere’s shallow content selection suggests its success will be modest.
If you’re like me, you may have noticed that recently you’ve become a little less patient when you to try to watch a video and things don’t go exactly right. Whether it’s difficulty finding the desired video, momentary buffering, an intrusive/irrelevant ad or some kind of device issue - these sources of friction are increasingly noticeable and in turn disappointing.
I don’t find this surprising. We live in a world where instant gratification and seamless user experiences are becoming the new normal. Those that don’t measure up stand out more readily as sore thumbs. Among other things, we can now do a super-convenient voice search using a smart speaker, request a personal driver though Uber or Lyft with just a few taps on our smartphones, get a refund on an Amazon return the moment the package is scanned at UPS and lots more. Simply put, for many of us, the Internet and apps are making life easier all the time.
I’m pleased to present the 378th edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.
First up this week, Colin shares reactions to a presentation he attended by Jennifer Dorian, GM of Turner Classic Movies and FilmStruck about how TCM is focusing on its core fans to build community and strengthen its brand. Colin was very impressed with the range of initiatives TCM is taking as examples of how a traditional cable TV network can deepen its relationships with viewers.
We then transition to discuss AMC Premiere, the new $4.99 per month service recently launched by AMC and Comcast allowing ad-free viewing of current season programs. I really like the fact that the companies are experimenting with a new business model, but as I wrote, based on other similar services, I’m not super-confident that there is huge pent-up demand to pay extra to avoid ads, especially since the programming available is limited.
Listen in to learn more!
Click here to listen to the podcast (19 minutes, 20 seconds)
AMC Premiere, an ad-free version of the popular cable network AMC, will be available for $4.99 per month to Comcast’s Xfinity TV subscribers, the latest initiative by pay-TV incumbents to offer more flexible access to viewers. AMC Premiere provides ad-free access to the network’s current season programs along with a variety of exclusive and first-look content and movies.
However, AMC Premiere does not include past seasons of “The Walking Dead” for example, or any of the iconic programming like “Mad Men” or “Breaking Bad,” which put AMC on the map for high-quality originals. All of those have long been licensed to Netflix. The most recent season of “The Walking Dead,” as well as prior ones, are available on demand from Comcast for $2.99 per episode. Many other shows from other networks are available at no charge on demand from Comcast.
I’m pleased to present the 366th edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.
Once again, we’d like to thank our podcast sponsor Akamai Technologies, which will show its Media Acceleration capabilities and range of cloud-based solutions at the NABShow in Las Vegas, in booth SL3324. Click here to schedule a meeting.
This week rumors of two more online TV services surfaced on Bloomberg - one is an alliance of AMC, Discovery and Viacom and the other, from NBCU, would include programs from the company’s broadcast and cable TV networks. Both services appear to be in the mold of CBS All Access, with the AMC/Discovery/Viacom service being positioned as a sports-free and offered by pay-TV providers. Bloomberg said it was too early to tell whether sports or a linear feed of NBC would be included in the second.
At first blush, Colin and I are intrigued by both as they appear to target “entertainment-only” viewers who don’t care about sports. Netflix and Amazon, among others have been super-successful targeting this entertainment-onlys and we both believe there’s still growth available for additional services. We discuss the opportunity as well as potential stumbling blocks in this week’s podcast.
Listen in to learn more!
Click here to listen to the podcast (21 minutes, 35 seconds)
“Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner explained how Netflix’s and Amazon’s international distribution capabilities are changing the TV industry’s economics as well as mitigating domestic viewership fragmentation, in an interview he did with Videology’s Chairman and CEO Scott Ferber at the company’s “Full Frontal 2017” event on March 8th.
It’s no secret that both Netflix and Amazon are aggressively promoting their SVOD services in approximately 200 different countries around the world. But Weiner explained how having their own international distribution footprint distinguishes them from other networks, enabling them to pursue projects with the intention of globally distributing the programs without the necessity of having partners.
I'm pleased to present the 298th edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.
T-Mobile announced something breakthrough earlier this week, with its new “Binge On” program that allows its subscribers to watch unlimited video from 24 different providers without it counting against their data plans. Granted video quality will be a modest 480p or better, but the significance here is that T-Mobile is enabling long-form viewing out of the home, without needing to hunt down a good WiFi connection or risk massive data plan overage charges.
Over 2 years ago, I questioned whether optimistic forecasts for mobile video consumption were realistic given expensive data plans. In fact, research has shown that most “mobile” video viewing actually occurs in the home. But with T-Mobile’s Binge On, it will be fascinating to see if other wireless carriers are compelled to do something similar, which would be a huge boon to video providers. Colin and I discuss the ramifications.
We then turn our attention to SVOD licensing, which is all over the board. Last week, Time Warner said it was going to pull back on SVOD licensing, but earlier this week AMC said it will continue to pursue a one year window. Meanwhile, Time Warner is now rumored to be investing in Hulu, in a deal that would include a content commitment. TV networks and studios are clearly caught between the short term appeal of SVOD revenue vs. the long term concern that it undermines the ecosystem. We dig into the issues.
Listen now to learn more!
Click here to listen to the podcast (21 minutes, 29 seconds)
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Hulu held its NewFront on Wednesday, highlighting its growth, which includes approaching 9 million subscribers, up 50% vs. 2014, with 700 million hours of video streamed in Q1 '15, up 83% vs. Q1 '14. Hulu CEO Mike Hopkins said that 61% of Hulu's viewers no longer watch on a computer. 82% of Hulu's audience is in the 18-49 year-old age range, with a median age of 33 years-old.
I have long wondered whether Hulu was going to be the odd man out, sandwiched between Netflix, OTT's 800-pound gorilla, and Amazon, with its unlimited resources. But Hulu is clearly investing heavily in both licensed and original content, and seemingly carving out its place in the OTT landscape.
(Note: Following is the first of several interviews I'm doing with speakers appearing at X Media Research's upcoming BroadbandTVCon in Hollywood on Nov. 5th and 6th, where I'll also be moderating. VideoNuze readers can save $75 on registration using the code "VideoNuze.")
Following is an edited transcript of my interview with Lisa Judson, GM of YEAH!, a new streaming movie service launched by AMC Networks this past March.
What is the philosophy behind YEAH!?
We believe that movies have become a commodity online and that we could provide a unique experience, to enrich a film with original content about the film. We try to tell the story of the movie while you watch the movie. We see ourselves as movie lovers, so we're aligned with our audience. We don't want to just deliver a movie, but rather an overall experience that will connect and engage audiences (see screenshot below).
(Note: I will NOT disclose anything about last night's series finale, so fans, you're safe to read on without spoilers.)
Last night was the series finale of the hit AMC show "Breaking Bad." I count myself among the millions of super-fans who fell in love with the series from the start and have been loyal ever since. Importantly though, my viewing experience with Breaking Bad distinguished itself from every other TV show I've ever watched: it was the first one where I watched every single episode on-demand and without ads.
In fact, my experiences with Breaking Bad perfectly illustrate so many of the video industry themes I write about on VideoNuze each day that I thought it would be worth sharing some of them and what I learned.
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.
Following are 4 news items worth noting from the week of Sept. 21st:
1. Bashing Hulu gains steam - what's going on here? - These days everyone seems to want bash Hulu and its pure ad-supported business model for premium content. Last week it was Soleil Securities releasing a report that Hulu costs its owners $920 per viewer in advertising when they shift their viewership. This week, it was a panel of industry executives turn. Then a leaked email from CBS's Quincy Smith showed his dissatisfaction with Hulu, and interest in trying to prove it is the cause of its parent networks' ratings declines.
What's happening here is that the world is waking up to the fact that although Hulu's user experience is world-class, its ad model implementation is simply too light to be sustainable. I wrote about this a year ago in "Broadcast Networks' Use of Broadband Video is Accelerating Demise of their Business Model," following up in May with "OK, Hulu Now Has ABC. But When Will it Prove Its Business Model?" Content executives are finally realizing that it is still too early to put long form premium quality video online for free. Doing so spoils viewers and reinforces their expectation that the Internet is a free-only medium. When TV Everywhere soon reasserts the superiority of hybrid pay/ad models, ad-only long-form sites are going to get squeezed. At VideoSchmooze on Oct 13th, we have Hulu's first CEO George Kliavkoff on our panel; it's going to be a great opportunity to understand Hulu's model and dig further into this whole issue.
2. TiVo data on ad-skipping for Emmy-winning programs should have TV industry alarmed - As if ad-skipping in general wasn't already a "hair-on-fire" problem for TV executives, research TiVo released this week on ad-skipping behavior specifically for Emmy-winning programs should have the industry on DEFCON 1 alert. Using data from its "Stop | Watch" ratings service, TiVo found that audiences for the winning programs in the 5 top Emmy categories - Outstanding Comedy Series, Drama Series, Animated Program, Reality-Competition and Variety/Music/Comedy Series - all show heavier than average (for their genre) time-shifting. The same pattern is true for ad-skipping; the only exception is "30 Rock" (winner of Outstanding Comedy Series) which performs slightly better than its genre average.
The numbers for AMC's "Mad Men" (winner of Outstanding Drama Series), are particularly eye-opening: 85% of the TiVo research panel's viewers time-shifted, and of those, 83% ad-skipped. (Note as an avid Mad Men viewer, I've been doing both since the show's premiere episode. It's unimaginable to me to watch the show at its appointed time, and with the ads.) The data means that even when TV execs produce a critical winner, their ability to effectively monetize it is under siege. How long will BMW sign up to be Mad Men's premier sponsor with research like this? TiVo's time-shifting data shows why network executives have to get the online ad model right. When TV Everywhere launches it will cater to massive latent interest in on-demand access by viewers; it is essential these views be better monetized than Hulu, for example, is doing today.
3. Radio stations push into online video as GAP Broadcasting launches with VMIX - Lacking its own video, the radio industry has been a little bit of the odd man out in the online video revolution. Some of the industry's bigger players like Clear Channel have jumped in, but there hasn't been a lot of momentum, especially with the ad downturn. But this week GAP Broadcasting, owner of 116 stations in mostly smaller markets announced a partnership with video platform and content provider VMIX. I talked to VMIX CEO Mike Glickenhaus who reported that radio stations are starting to get on board. For GAP, VMIX is providing an online video platform, premium content from hundreds of licensed partners, user-generated video tools and sales training, among other things. GAP's goal is to be a "total audience engagement platform" not just a radio station. Sounds right, but there's lots of hard work ahead.
4. So is there a "Long Tail" or isn't there? Ever since Chris Anderson's book "The Long Tail" appeared in 2006 there have been researchers challenging his theory which asserts that infinite shelf space drives customer demand into the niches. The latest attempt is by 2 Wharton professors, who, using Netflix data, observe that the Long Tail effect is not ironclad. Sometimes it's present, sometimes it's not. Anderson disputes their findings. The argument boils down to the definitions of the "head" and "tail" of the markets being studied. Anderson defines them in absolute terms (say the top 100 products), whereas the Wharton team defines them in terms of percentages (the top 1 %).
I've been fascinated with the Long Tail concept since the beginning, as it potentially represents a continued evolution of video choice; over-the-air broadcasting allowed for 3 channels originally, cable then allowed for 30, 50, 500, now broadband creates infinite shelf space. Independent online video producers and their investors have bet on the Long Tail effect working for them to drive viewership beyond broadcast and cable. With Nielsen reporting hours of TV viewership holding steady, we haven't yet seen cannibalization. However, with Nielsen, comScore and others reporting online video consumption surging, audiences may be carving out time from other activities to go online and watch.
Enjoy your weekends! There will be no VideoNuze on Monday as I'll be observing Yom Kippur.
Following are 4 news items worth noting from the week of July 20th:
Apple reports blowout iPhone sales in Q2, continuing to drive market - It was another record quarter, as Apple reported selling 5.2 million iPhones, bringing to 21.4 the total sold to date. This despite acknowledging temporary shortages during the quarter. The iPhone continues to revolutionize the mobile market, and from my standpoint is the key catalyst for both recording and consumption of mobile video. This market is poised for significant growth as new smartphones hit the market along with fixed monthly data plans. Apps like MLB.com At Bat 2009, which offers live streams of games, are certain to be hits and emulated widely.
8 minute video of Amazon's Jeff Bezos discussing lessons learned and Zappos acquisition - You couldn't miss news this week of Amazon acquiring Zappos for around $900M, its largest deal ever. Interestingly, Amazon posted a video on YouTube of Bezos discussing the deal, but not until he walked through several maxims of Amazon's success (obsess over customers, think long term, etc.). The video is extremely informal, with Bezos flipping hand-scrawled notes on an easel and improvising funny anecdotes. It has a slightly random feel (until he gets to the Zappos part, you start to wonder, what's the point of all this?), but I give Amazon and Bezos lots of credit for using video in a totally new way to communicate with stakeholders. I'd love to see more CEOs do the same.
Is Disney CEO Bob Iger serious about creating a subscription site for its online video? This week at Fortune's Brainstorm conference, Iger floated the idea that Disney will offer movies, TV shows and games for paying subscribers. The timing seems more than coincidental as Comcast gears up for its On Demand Online trial. Is Iger serious about this, or is it a head fake from Disney so it can try to negotiate incremental payments from Comcast and others seeking to distribute Disney content online? It's hard to tell, but I'd be curious to see what Disney has in mind for its possible subscription service. Consumers hate the idea of paying twice for anything (even paying once is not so popular), so if Disney is somehow going to create another window where they charge for access to content that's still on, or was recently on cable, that would be an awkward model.
"Mad Men" coming to Comcast's On Demand Online trial - Speaking of the Comcast trial, I was thrilled to hear from David Evans, SVP of Broadband at Rainbow Media (owners of AMC, the network behind Mad Men) at yesterday's CTAM Teleseminar that the show will be included in Comcast's trial and presumably in rollout. David is very bullish on online distribution and the larger TV Everywhere concept, though cautioned that there are many rights-related issues still hanging out there. I'm a huge Mad Men fan (whose new season starts on Aug 16th) and the idea that I don't have to worry about recording each episode or managing space on my DVR, and that I can watch remotely when I'm on the road, all underscore TV Everywhere's value.