Friday, October 24, 2014

Missing the Point on HBO and Streaming: Cable Basic Service Bundles Must Go!

OUTSIDE THE BUNDLE from the Wall Street Journal Today.

Stand-Alone Streaming Begins to Arrive.

The Journal published a summary of a la carte offerings outside the cable/ satellite eco-system. Arguably, the disintegration of cable package pricing, (inevitable frankly) has begun in earnest.

In our view, this debate has always missed the point. Cable TV is an over priced, bloated, no choive, packaged product. It is a stack of bundled services that many subscribers (and most cord cutters) do not want. The bulk of the cost of cable service is made up of retransmission charges by the major networks, and fees for "basic" cable services like ESPN and its many tentacles, and other channels in the business, family and children's categories. HBO and other premium channels can only be purchased after the subscriber has plunked down around $200 a month.

Why can't subscribers buy HBO and without having to pay for basic services first. It makes no sense (except as a legacy business practice in the early days of cable must carry). Over the last thirty years, consumers have faced a vast and expanding array of channels, but few real choices. With over 1000 channels of service on many high band-width systems, consumers generally are offered four options at most. How many consumers want multiple news services spanning the political spectrum? Most want one, the one which the voice fits best with their political outlook. How many subscribers want 20 or more sports networks? Unless you have kids, how subscribers want seven or eight children's channels? At the same time, subscriber bills have breached the $200 per month level. Put another way, consumers have been forced to pay alot for what they do not want-for years.

Our friend and former colleague Laura Martin, an analyst at Needham & Co., "estimates that unbundling would drain half of the revenue, or $70 billion, out of the television industry. Moreover, today’s hundreds of channels would shrink down to about 20, she wrote. (WSJ)" We don't think the losses will be so great, because consumers are not iirrational to the tune of $35 billion, BUT...

So-called over the top services, offer legitimate choice for far less money. Consumers will be able to express demand for what they want and only what they want.

Comcast's Steve Burke has argued that HBO needs cable because going OTT will canabalize its own subscribers. If consumers can cut out services they really don't want, then going with HBO offers tremendous savings. Taking HULU, HBO and Netflix, probably means somewhere around $100 per month savings for many consumers. That's $1200 a year. Arguably HBO subscriptions would rise if the service was not placed on top of the rest of the cable menu.

An HBO streaming service could ultimately be MORE profitable as the service will no longer have to share subscriber fees with the cable operator middle man.

What does all this mean? Video subscriptions are already falling, and we see declines in viewership of basic cable services followed by substantial shrinkage in the advertising income. We expect the program services to attempt to offset with increased subscriber fees; that will be met by heightened resistance from cable operators and consumers. Viacom services may be hit hardest, and believe that the company will not exist ten years from now. Time Warner's Turner services could also suffer without better branding and positioning online. Discovery and AMC may need to rely on strong presences foreign markets to survive, but also need to strengthen brand identity. ESPN is the tough one to predict but it will surely be vulnerable to further huge cost pressures.

Here's a link to the Journal story.

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