Company / division: Comcast
The American Cable Association, a trade group which represents 750 smaller pay TV companies with around 7 million subscribers between them, says Comcast is making it very difficult for them to offer smaller pay TV bundles. In addition to being the second largest pay TV company in the US itself, Comcast owns several regional sports networks, and is allegedly attempting to force those smaller pay TV companies to carry them on the vast majority of their subscription packages, raising prices and preventing companies from offering increasingly popular “skinny bundles”. The companies have filed a formal complaint with the FCC, but only in response to a broad annual enquiry into the state of competition in the market, rather than as an accusation of broken rules. As such, it’s not clear what effect if any this complaint will have, but it’s indicative of the fact that big TV companies are increasingly attempting to fight consumer disinterest in their programming with forced bundling to stem the loss of subscribers and the associated revenues. That’s clearly not a workable solution over the long term.
Update: later in the day, Viacom executive Bob Bakish sent a memo to staff saying that Charter has been blocking attempts by the company to create its own packages and bundles in response to being dropped from some of Charter’s programming tiers. So this is not simply a one-way issue, but something which affects both sides of the coin here.
Five major movie studios have banded together to join a successor to Disney’s Movies Anywhere service, which serves as a digital locker consolidating digital movie purchases across major retailers like iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Video, and Vudu. This is a pretty big deal, because the service was Disney only in the past and competed with UltraViolet, a competing platform. This partnership now brings together five of the biggest names in movies, and it’s fairly compelling – I just signed up and was able to consolidate my past purchases from iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon Video into one big collection, which I can now view on various devices and even download for offline viewing on a phone. That’s important to me because even though I’ve tended to favor one particular storefront over the last few years, I have at various times acquired movies on other platforms for pricing, availability, or testing purposes, and they’ve been kind of lost on there. This therefore feels like the first time something like this might actually take off in a meaningful way.
This LA Times piece has some good numbers on how this season’s broadcast fall TV premieres fared, and the answer is that they saw another drop year on year in live viewing. The ongoing drop in life NFL viewing was a big contributor to the overall drop, but there were broader drops for dramas and comedies as well, despite a fairly strong performance on the comedy side overall. None of this is new, nor should it be surprising at this point – the trend away from live viewing and towards DVR and streaming viewing of the same shows as well as digital-native streaming through services like Netflix is well established and unstoppable at this point, with significant implications for legacy TV companies. As measurement of non-live viewing – both DVR and streaming – both improves and increasingly gets counted in official figures used to calculate ad payouts, some of the effects on ad revenues will be mitigated, but certainly not all.
via LA Times
Bloomberg reports that Comcast has over 200,000 subscribers for its Xfinity Mobile service, which launched earlier this year. At the time of the launch, I said that, “Comcast will likely sell this service to up to 10% of its base in the next couple of years, which will be a nice boost to its revenues and profits, but will make only a tiny dent in the overall US wireless market – 10% penetration of its broadband base would be just 2.5 million customers, which is less than the number of new customers the big four carriers added last quarter alone.” In other words, even with what I’d consider pretty decent take-up, Comcast wasn’t likely to make a dent in the market. So far, it would appear it’s added around 1% of the addressable base to the service, which is a decent start, but again tiny in the broader context of the market. More notable, in some ways, is the fact that the service has mostly attracted customers to its non-traditional per-gigabyte pricing model rather than the more traditional tiered bucket model, suggesting both that customers find that appealing and that Comcast might make some decent margins even at relatively small scale.
NBC Universal is going to start allowing big advertisers to automate the placement of some of their ads through the use of an API. What this means in practice is that brands will be able to use data they have on which shows their target customers are likely to watch to select exactly when their ads will play on the various NBCU channel. Despite the obvious similarity to automated ad buying online, this is going to be far from a free-for-all: it’s starting with one partner (Target) and this will presumably be limited to big, established brands, and will certainly involve pre-approval of all the actual creative to be shown to viewers. But it’s yet another front in the ongoing war between online ad platforms and the TV companies, with the latter constantly aping the former’s techniques while claiming to be superior in other ways. The reality is that every big brand is going to advertise in both places, and Facebook is now actively pursuing a strategy of trying to tie those two channels together at a measurement level, which feels more realistic than the TV companies’ denial that the online platforms offer anything of value to advertisers.
via Business Insider
Last night’s Emmy awards once again provided an interesting set of insights into the winners and losers among both traditional and online streaming TV properties. HBO won the most overall awards with 29, while Netflix beat out the other streaming services with 20. Hulu did much better than in the past, almost entirely because of one show – The Handmaid’s Tale – which has been extremely well reviewed but may also have garnered additional favor by being deemed particularly relevant in today’s rather dystopian real-world political scene. That’s a huge coup for Hulu as Netflix has never won best drama, but it would be dangerous to read too much into it, given Hulu’s lack of past or broader success. Netflix won twice as many awards overall, including wins for multiple shows in different categories. Amazon, meanwhile, took away just two wins. In addition to HBO, NBC did well among the traditional TV companies, coming in third behind Netflix, while ABC, Fox, and CBS all took home single digit trophies. It still feels like HBO and Netflix are the real powerhouses when it comes to high-budget, high-quality TV, but the Hulu wins show that others in the streaming world aren’t being shut out entirely, which should be heartening to Apple and others coming into the game late but with big budgets and ambitions.
NBCU to Shut Down Seeso Comedy Subscription Service (Aug 9, 2017)
Snapchat Launches Daily NBC News Show (Jul 19, 2017)
Netflix and HBO Lead Emmy Nominations (Jul 13, 2017)
TV Networks Score Growth in Upfront Ad Commitments (Jul 13, 2017)
Netflix Squeezes Fox Out of Top 4 Must-Keep Viewing Options (Jul 12, 2017)
Back in March, there were reports that AMC was looking to provide an ad-free version of its TV network through pay TV operators, though the specifics weren’t then known. Today, AMC and Comcast have announced that the service will run (for now at least) as a partnership between them, providing AMC Premiere as a video on demand service through Comcast’s set top boxes and apps for $5 per month. As I said in March, that’s a hefty price for a network which commands just a fraction of that from pay TV operators each month, and which generates only half its current revenue from advertising. It may have decided that pricing a service below $5 per month devalues it, but the $5 price point clearly overvalues it, especially given that it won’t be a standalone service – in other words, you have to be an Xfinity pay TV subscriber to be able to get the service, so this is an add-on to the standard AMC channel, not an alternative to it. Taking a step back, the move clearly taps into a broad consumer push to get ad-free TV, something which Netflix has always offered and Hulu has made something of a default recently too for VoD. And of course competitors like HBO have never had ads either, but they also have massively more content including lots of big-budget original content to justify a higher price. This feels like a good concept in principle, but both the wrong channel to apply it to and the wrong price point for what AMC actually offers. I’m looking forward to better applications of the same idea from other content owners.
NBCU has announced a new subscription offering for watching England’s Premier League soccer games, which will cost $50 per season when it launches in August this year. The catch is that these games were previously available online and through NBC’s apps to authenticated pay TV subscribers as an additional offering over and above the games shown on its live linear TV channels. So it is taking what used to be a perk for authenticated pay TV subs and making it a separate, $50 service, making this a bid for new revenue from dedicated soccer watchers. What that means in practice is that viewers who care about this will now need to subscribe to TV packages that include the NBCU channels and to this separate subscription if they want to watch all possible games. This is definitely part of a trend towards direct-to-consumer offerings, many of which are coming from traditional players not willing to offer full cord-cutting solutions, which means that they actually end up setting the user experience back instead of moving it forward, as in this case. The traditional TV players continue to be more interested in experimenting and dabbling with services that can provide new revenue than – to use an analogy from a different sport – skating to where the puck will be by offering truly new offerings that allow users more control. I continue to believe that there will come a tipping point when we see real innovation in giving users just what they want because the alternative is rapid decline, but we’re clearly not there yet. But it’s also notable that both Fox (through the deal announced earlier today with Facebook) and NBCU are seeking new ways to monetize their second-tier sports content which otherwise doesn’t appear on TV.
More Fraudulent Comments Submitted to FCC on Net Neutrality (May 29, 2017)
I had an earlier comment on a report that many fraudulent comments had been submitted to the FCC over its proposed net neutrality action, though the vast majority of those were against the policy proposals. Now, it’s emerged that there have also been some number of identical comments submitted in support of the proposals, at least some of which are being submitted in the names of individuals who have publicly opposed them. Those individuals have quite reasonably asked that those fraudulent comments be removed from the site, and also that the FCC investigate the fraud (something which, as far as I am aware, the FCC isn’t planning to do with the earlier comments either). There’s also an accusation – completely unsubstantiated as far as I can tell – that Comcast is somehow behind these comments. This FCC process has been dogged from the start by “astroturfing” – the process of either faking or at least dramatically magnifying apparent public comments on a controversial topic, through a combination of legitimate streamlining methods like form letters and online submission forms and illegitimate ones like these fake comments. That, in turn, seriously muddies the water in terms of what real people actually believe about all this – the only survey I’ve seen on this was sponsored by the industry and predictably showed that people broadly oppose regulation on the Internet but without being very specific about net neutrality. As I’ve said from the start, though, this FCC doesn’t seem particularly likely to bend even in the fact of significant (real) public opposition.
via Ars Technica
I’ve been watching the news from the recent TV upfronts and waiting for the definitive article that summarizes what’s been said and done, and while I’m not convinced this is it, it does a good job of characterizing the basic trends at issue. The two big underlying trends are the continuing decline of live linear viewing of traditional TV and the massive growth of online advertising, which could be presumed to have put an enormous dent in TV ad spending but actually haven’t. However, the TV companies still see online advertising platforms as a big threat, and spent an unusual amount of time during the upfronts trashing Facebook and Google (though mostly not by name) while talking up their own massive reach. At the same time, though, these companies are increasingly mimicking the very same things that make Facebook and Google’s ad platforms attractive: detailed targeting of ads and tracking of what happens after viewers see them. At the same time, the TV networks seem somewhat lost on the content side, rebooting old shows and formats, latching onto new gimmicks like live musicals, and generally showing a lack of imagination in protecting and rejuvenating their brands. Meanwhile, the strongest audiences on traditional TV are live sports fans and older generations watching procedural franchises like CSI and NCIS. And of course the big online platforms are investing in lots of both traditional sports content and some new formats of their own. Therefore, though each side would like to paint itself as providing unique value, the two are increasing converging on a similar set of content and ad capabilities, while the audience continues to shift from traditional linear TV to a host of online and streaming alternatives, which will inevitably pull ad dollars that way too.
via LA Times