Disney and cable operator Altice (owner of the former Cablevision properties) came to a last-minute agreement on Sunday to avert a blackout both sides had been warning customers about as they negotiated new terms. This has been one of the first big renegotiations for Disney since it became clear how badly the ESPN business is going from a subscriber perspective, and as such is seen as a bellwether for how the next few years will go for Disney. All the details haven’t emerged yet, not least because the sides are still apparently hammering some of them out, but it’s clear that Altice did pay for price increases, though not as large as Disney wanted. That’s critical because regularly contractual price increases have been the thing keeping many cable operators’ revenues growing even as their subscriber numbers have been falling. If the increases aren’t large enough to offset the declines in subscribers, that picture starts to change, and so far we don’t know for sure whether that’s the case. But whether Disney is able to get the price increases it needs to stay ahead of subscriber declines is the critical factor in future negotiations. Altice is one of the smaller pay TV providers in the country, and if it had sufficient leverage to negotiate price increases down, that likely doesn’t bode well for Disney going forward. You’ll see headlines saying that the deal demonstrates pay TV companies will still pay for sports, but that was a given – the question was how far Disney would budge to ensure that remained the case.
Facebook Signs Deal with NFL for Highlight Videos (Sep 26, 2017)
Given that the live TV rights for major US sports are pretty much all sewn up for years to come, the major online platforms have been relegated to pursuing other rights, including second-tier sports (and e-sports), sports rights outside the US, and meta content including highlights and sports-centric talk shows. The latest example of that comes from Facebook, which has paid the NFL for the right to show highlights to its users immediately after games end, as well as doing a deal for NFL-created shows for its new Watch tab for video. The highlights deal kicks in immediately and the overall contract is for two years. This feels like one of the more promising deals Facebook has signed – I’m really not convinced anyone wants to watch long-form sports (like pretty much all US sports with their massive ad loads) through a social network, but highlights seem much better suited to both mobile and social contexts, because they’re very shareable and digestible in small chunks. I already regularly see highlights from various sports in my Facebook feed, but they’re almost all videos from within articles hosted off Facebook – this deal would bring the content into the platform and therefore enable monetization through advertising. As I said yesterday in the context of YouTube’s enhancements, Facebook’s video ad tools are still very rudimentary in comparison, but at least it now has ways to show ads in videos. The challenge with highlights is going to be that they’re so short and so widely available, I wonder whether anyone will want to stick around beyond the mid-roll ad break.
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.
Netflix is (somewhat remarkably) making its first ever acquisition, buying comic book company Millarworld, which was started by Mark Millar and some former colleagues who had all written comic books for DC and Marvel and wanted a bigger stake in their creations, nearly 15 years ago. The terms of the deal aren’t being disclosed, so it’s far from clear what the immediate financial impact on Netflix will be, either in terms of the acquisition price or the revenue or profits from adding this first bit of diversification to the business. The whole announcement from Netflix reads like a subtle dig at Marvel, which is interesting given the close relationship the two companies currently enjoy. Millar is described as a “modern-day Stan Lee”, when of course Stan Lee himself is still alive and actively involved in the community if not actively creating new content, while the release also says that Millar was behind a number of the characters whose stories have been turned into movies by Marvel Studios over the last few years. Clearly, the claim here – somewhat farfetched – is that Millarworld is the new Marvel. Several of its characters and stories have already been turned into movies in recent years, and with some success, so it’s not a totally absurd claim. But overall few of them have the mass-market name recognition of Marvel or DC’s characters, and some quick feedback from people on Twitter who are more into this world than I am suggest that as a competitor it’s a pretty distant third behind the big two. This is clearly an attempt to secure more original content for Netflix, but also something of a hedge against the time that Netflix’s deal with Disney and therefore Marvel goes away, though on the latter point the acquisition also likely raises the risk that deal does go away, so perhaps Netflix has already had signals (or has simply decided independently) that it won’t renew. But it doesn’t sound like it’s going to provide anything like the same quality or quantity of content for Netflix that the Marvel deal does.
via Netflix (PDF)
AT&T More than Doubles DirecTV Now Live Local Channel Lineup (Jun 30, 2017)
Facebook Secures TV Rights for Less Interesting Champions League Soccer Games Through Fox (Jun 27, 2017)
Facebook has been dabbling in sports rights here and there, and already has a deal for a twenty Major League Baseball games during the 2017 season. Now, it also has a deal to show some European Champions League games in the US through Fox, which owns the TV rights. The games Facebook shows will be the the lower profile ones which aren’t shown on live TV but which have been available through Fox’s streaming apps. Given that the focus is on these lower-tier games, it also has no rights to the last two rounds of the tournament, which features the top club soccer teams from throughout Europe. The article here from Bloomberg talks up the amount of social activity around soccer on Facebook, but of course the US is famously resistant to soccer, so only a fraction of the overall numbers relate to the US specifically. I certainly count myself among those who watch the Champions League here in the US, but almost exclusively the top-tier team I support, which almost certainly won’t be featured in any of the games Facebook shows. And that’s the challenge here – this deal sounds good in principle, and for any fans of relatively obscure European teams who happen to be living in the US (or who watch soccer indiscriminately regardless of the teams playing) this might be a nice value-add on Facebook. But this doesn’t seem likely to attract much bigger audiences than the MLB games on Friday nights.
Taylor Swift’s Music Comes Back to Spotify (Jun 9, 2017)
NBC Lines Up Affiliates for Streaming Distribution Deals (Apr 13, 2017)
This statement from Spotify and one of the big three music labels confirms a report from a few weeks back, which itself made perfect sense. It’s paid streaming that’s been driving a revival in the music industry, not ad-based streaming, and as such the labels want to do what they can to foster that model. Since Spotify is simultaneously the provider with the largest paid streaming base and also offers a big ad-based service, it’s natural that the labels would want to use what leverage they have to push Spotify to differentiate its paid offering more. Spotify, in turn, needs both to sign long-term deals with the labels and reduce its royalty rates so that it can gain investor confidence ahead of an IPO. So this is a win-win, though it forces CEO Daniel Ek to compromise on a key principle he’s held to previously, which was not preferring the paid service in terms of the music library it offers. Still, we’ll likely see similar deals with the other labels, which may finally pave the way for that IPO, which is increasingly urgent for Spotify.
via The Verge
Netflix: The Monster That’s Eating Hollywood – WSJ (Mar 24, 2017)
The headline here is indicative of the language used by some TV execs in the article, but that rhetoric feels pretty overblown, along with the suggestions that Netflix is somehow singlehandedly doubling the fees actors ask for or squeezing other players out of the business. Yes, both Amazon and Netflix are raising prices for acquisitions of indie movies at Sundance, but no, they’re not having that dramatic effect on the entire industry, not least because they’re still just a fraction of the size of the industry as a whole. The reality is that competition has been intensifying for years because the industry is getting tighter in an age of shrinking audiences and higher standards, and Netflix and Amazon aren’t to blame. Having said all that, the article is likely indicative of a souring of relationships between Netflix and traditional media companies, and if that continues we’ll likely see more content pulled from Netflix and other SVOD services, which just validates Netflix’s massive investment in original content which no-one can take away.
Further evidence here that if tech is to disrupt TV, it’s often going to do it without the support of the traditional TV industry, which is in some cases starting to pull back its content to its own platforms while leaving others like Hulu out in the cold. Viacom’s new CEO said on its recent earnings call that the company would be pulling back from SVOD services, and this is the first sign that he meant what he said. This is also the single biggest reason for SVOD providers to invest in a big way in original content which can’t be yanked away due to skittishness on the part of content providers. Hulu is a unique animal in this space, with several of its its owners among its biggest content providers, but it’s still vulnerable to this kind of thing, and the other big streamers even more so.