Tag Archives: Pay television

Posts Of The Year – 2015 – #3

I am going to continue an annual tradition this week and repost the most-read screeds of the past year.  I am very grateful to the folks from 91 countries around the world who read them this year, although I’m not sure why I seem to be so popular in Brazil (the second country behind the US in terms of readership!).  This post, the third most-read, non-food post, was from October.  It touches on a subject that came up a few other times this year, and one I expect will be front and center in 2016: cord-cutting.  It was originally titled  Shaving The Cord. Enjoy!

You might have heard something over the weekend about a glitch in the Nielsen ratings system that affected the estimated audiences all the way back to March.  While that is kind of problematic for the TV industry, it was other Nielsen data that presents much more of a long-term problem.  As Cynopsis reported:

The top 40 cable channels have lost more than 3 percent of their distribution over the last four years, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Nielsen ratings data. How to account for the decline, which exceeds the loss of subscribers? Pay-TV customers are signing up for less expensive bundles with fewer channels, says the WSJ. “What we are seeing is some cord cutting and some cord shaving,” Nielsen global president Stephen Hasker told the paper. “Consumer time and attention is shifting.”

You can read the Wall Street Journal article by clicking through.  As someone who spent a long time in the TV business, I understand why channels are bundled.  Way back when, the market was far less fragmented and the business model evolved where there really weren’t tiers other than the true premium channels of HBO and local sports networks.  Today, even the “major networks” of ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC attract audience ratings in the low single digits even for top programs.  Yes, DVR viewing can boost some of their audiences as much as 80% but think about it.  What’s the difference between watching “Gotham” via Hulu (the internet) or on your DVR (the cable bundle)?  Other than being able to skip the commercials on a DVR, not much.  In fact, one could argue that advertisers would prefer that consumers watch in the non-skippable internet interface.

The real point is that how consumers come to content has changed and yet the people who are the middlemen in offering the content – the cable companies – haven’t moved off a business model that evolved in the 1980s.  As the  Journal states:

Data points are piling up to show “cord shaving” is for real. At least two pay-TV providers say about 10% of gross TV subscriber additions are customers who are taking a slimmed-down bundle—in contrast to the bigger ones with hundreds of channels that can cost upward of $100 a month.

So the choice for the providers, as it is for all of us in our businesses,  is to change or to shrink.  They can’t just keep raising prices.  At some point that makes the problem even worse as consumers pay more for channels they don’t watch.  What’s your solution?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media

The Coming Cable Shift

I got into a discussion with someone about the major shift that’s taking place in the cable industry. Specifically, we were discussing all of the ala carte services that are becoming available. Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Video are just the start. You’ve heard that major networks – CBS, NBC, ESPN, and others – are going to provide a streaming service via broadband. I wrote about that a couple of weeks ago so I won’t repeat myself . However, in a time when 13.5% of broadband households with an adult under 35 have no pay-TV subscriptions and 8.6 million US households have broadband Internet but no pay-TV subscription with millions more likely to cut the cable cord in the next year, the times are a changin’.

The person with whom I was discussing this didn’t think it was a big deal. First, the cable guys are also ISPs so they make their money (at higher margins) there. Second, people will find that paying a lot more for fewer networks isn’t so great after all. I told him he was missing a point.

When you pay the cable bill each month, much of that payment gets divided up among dozens of program providers. ESPN takes the biggest chunk, around $6 or $7 according to reports as does sports programming in general. Other networks get fees ranging from $1.50 down to a dime. That’s per household per month. You do the math.

The point he was missing is demonstrated by HBO. HBO is never a basic network, meaning it’s never just included. You pay $10 a month or so for it. HBO uses that money to fund a lot of spectacular programming. Now, so does Netflix.

When the model changes the cable guys are no longer distributing the pot to programmers as they see fit. Consumers are paying for what they watch.

Even if the out-of-pocket doesn’t change, the money goes to a much more limited set of content providers. They, in turn, will have the ability to invest in better content. Yes, I realize that 10 cents a month from 50 million homes is better than $2 from 2 million homes. The difference is that payment from the larger audience will never get bigger unless your network is moved to a bigger, more basic tier or you can negotiate your way to a bigger fee. Providing the network directly doesn’t cap your growth and developing a hit can provide a big growth in revenues. Think of your friends who will subscribe to HBO or Showtime just to watch a favorite series.

I would not want to be a minor network in all of this. I suspect we will see some bundling of like networks that don’t share ownership. I also think we’ll see many networks go dark or end up as free, ad-supported channels on some service – Apple TV, YouTube, whatever. One thing for sure – five years from now the business I grew up in won’t resemble the one we’ll be living with.

Thoughts?

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Filed under Consulting, Thinking Aloud

Shaving The Cord

You might have heard something over the weekend about a glitch in the Nielsen ratings system that affected the estimated audiences all the way back to March.  While that is kind of problematic for the TV industry, it was other Nielsen data that presents much more of a long-term problem.  As Cynopsis reported:

The top 40 cable channels have lost more than 3 percent of their distribution over the last four years, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Nielsen ratings data. How to account for the decline, which exceeds the loss of subscribers? Pay-TV customers are signing up for less expensive bundles with fewer channels, says the WSJ. “What we are seeing is some cord cutting and some cord shaving,” Nielsen global president Stephen Hasker told the paper. “Consumer time and attention is shifting.”

You can read the Wall Street Journal article by clicking through.  As someone who spent a long time in the TV business I understand why channels are bundled.  Way back when, the market was far less fragmented and the business model evolved where there really weren’t tiers other than the true premium channels of HBO and local sports networks.  Today, even the “major networks” of ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC attract audience ratings in the low single digits even for top programs.  Yes, DVR viewing can boost some of their audiences as much as 80% but think about it.  What’s the difference between watching “Gotham” via Hulu (the internet) or on your DVR (the cable bundle)?  Other than being able to skip the commercials on a DVR, not much.  In fact, one could argue that advertisers would prefer that consumers watch in the non-skippable internet interface.

The real point is that how consumers come to content has changed and yet the people who are the middlemen in offering the content – the cable companies – haven’t moved off a business model that evolved in the 1980s.  As the  Journal sates:

Data points are piling up to show “cord shaving” is for real. At least two pay-TV providers say about 10% of gross TV subscriber additions are customers who are taking a slimmed-down bundle—in contrast to the bigger ones with hundreds of channels that can cost upward of $100 a month.

So the choice for the providers, as it is for all of us in our businesses,  is to change or to shrink.  They can’t just keep raising prices.  At some point that makes the problem even worse as consumers pay more for channels they don’t watch.  What’s your solution?

1 Comment

Filed under Consulting, digital media