Company / division: Time Warner
Time Warner’s Turner unit, which acquired English-language US rights to the European club soccer tournaments from UEFA earlier this year, has announced that it will be launching a new steaming service next year to carry the games. A subset of the games will also be broadcast through its linear channels, but it sounds like this service will be the only way to get the full set. This is a great example of the kind of approach big TV companies should be taking with online streaming services, where we’ve seen two broad strategies be successful: recreating a linear / pay TV offering in the digital world, or creating something entirely new (Turner here is doing the latter). This should provide a very direct way to recoup the $180 million Turner is allegedly spending on three year’s rights for the soccer tournaments, while also allowing it to experiment with streaming models for sports. It sounds like it’s interested in adding other sports over time, though not the basketball content that’s already a big deal on its linear networks, and I worry that could be a distraction or dilution for what will otherwise be a very clear value proposition.
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AT&T hasn’t bought Time Warner yet, but that’s not stopping it from doing deals involving Time Warner properties, including this new promotion with HBO. AT&T had already been using HBO as a lure for driving DirecTV Now subscriptions, as it’s bundled the channel first at a discounted rate and then free for subscribers. But now AT&T is also giving away HBO for free to its higher-tier unlimited wireless data customers. Though the merger hasn’t closed yet, there’s a good chance that future prospect has been part of the companies’ closer relationship on this side recently, and it’s easy to imagine more of this kind of thing should the deal go through. It’s never made sense that AT&T would seek to limit distribution of Time Warner content following the merger because that would be counter-productive for the content business even if it benefited wireless subscriber numbers. But zero rating and bundle discounts make a lot more sense, as they lock customers into a much higher total spend and likely lower churn at a fairly low customer acquisition cost, and of course once TW is part of AT&T the cash cost of deals like this will be minimal. And AT&T’s real goal with the merger isn’t so much synergies from owning content and distribution as it is simply owning content, because that’s where the real value is long term.