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Discovery Prepares to Launch Its Own 18-Channel Mini-Bundle of Cable Networks

Phillip Dampier March 7, 2018 Competition, Consumer News, Online Video, Video No Comments

As Discovery Communications completes its $11.9 billion acquisition of Scripps Networks Interactive Inc., the newly supersized basic cable network powerhouse will lay the foundation to launch its own online video mini-bundle of all 18 Discovery and Scripps networks, along with on-demand options, for as little as $6 a month.

The new service, to be branded collectively as “Discovery” will include programming from:


Discovery Channel, TLC, Animal Planet, Investigation Discovery, Oprah Winfrey Network, Velocity, Science, Discovery Family, American Heroes Channel, Destination America, Discovery Life, Discovery en Español (Spanish), and Discovery Familia (Spanish).


Cooking Channel, DIY Network, Food Network, Great American Country, HGTV, and Travel Channel.

The package is being developed as a defensive move to fight the ongoing erosion of subscribers that are cord-cutting traditional cable television. Discovery has lost 5% of its viewers in the U.S. in the last quarter alone, because many customers are moving to on-demand services like Netflix combined with over-the-air stations.

The newly enlarged Discovery is now the largest provider of non-fiction basic cable programming in the country. A combination of instructional programming popular on Scripps’ networks is expected to fit well with the reality and documentary programming popular on most Discovery networks. Although frequently bundled with alternative cable television streaming services, those services typically lack a deep on-demand library of content.

In order to drive subscriptions, Discovery’s streaming service is expected to be budget priced and include a large library of on-demand content, possibly including programming from other networks not owned by Discovery down the road.

The combined company also hopes to leverage as much savings out of the merger as possible. That will likely mean extensive job cuts at both companies. Discovery and Scripps together have more than 11,000 employees, including 600 ad sales people working for Discovery and 500 ad sales people working for Scripps.

Discovery will shut down its headquarters in Silver Spring, Md., and open a new headquarters in New York for both Discovery and Scripps employees. But Discovery will maintain Scripps’ headquarters in Knoxville, Tenn., as an “operations headquarters” for back-office work.

The two companies also have a significant international presence with more than three billion viewers worldwide, but the company plans to downsize international studios and consolidate production facilities in the United States and Poland, where Scripps owns  TVN, a Polish broadcast television network that favors reality TV programming and is seen in 90% of the country.

At some point, some of the 18 networks may be consolidated. Discovery executives note it now has two channels devoted to food and cooking — Food Network and the Cooking Channel.

Discovery’s niche will continue to be non-fiction programming, even as much of the rest of the industry is rapidly moving towards scripted series. Discovery executives point out that an hour of a scripted TV series now costs an average of $5 million, while an hour of reality programming produced in-house costs about $400,000. Scripps’ networks have managed to produce their shows for even less, recorded in pre-constructed studios that do not require remote location filming.” As far as Discovery is concerned, sticking with nonfiction programming is the right choice.

“We look at that [scripted] side and we say, ‘Good luck with that,’” said Discovery CEO David M. Zaslav. “That’s not what we do. We don’t do red carpet.”

Discovery Communications and Scripps Networks promote their merger and their global networks in this company-produced spot. (2:47)

Wyoming’s Rural Broadband Bill Rewritten by Telecom Lobbyists to Block Public Broadband

Cheyenne Mayor Marion Orr

An effort to pass legislation that would award state grants to help rural Wyoming communities get high-speed internet was dead on arrival as far as telecom industry lobbyists were concerned.

So they “fixed it” with a secret substitute bill quietly written by the state’s telecom companies.

The replacement legislation effectively turns the state grant program into a fund for the state’s dominant telecom companies — CenturyLink and Charter Communications.

Stop the Cap! has learned the replacement bill gives high priority to eliminating potential competition by blocking funding for communities to establish their own public broadband alternatives to the phone and cable company if those companies already offer service anywhere inside the community.

The bill also seeks to define the Wyoming government’s involvement in broadband as a non-adversarial partnership with the telecom industry, according to Wyoming Senate Minority Leader Chris Rothfuss (D-District 9).

Under the substitute bill, Rothfuss said the telecom industry will now have a say over how the state awards grant funds. The industry is concerned tax dollars could be given to their competitors to offer service in communities where CenturyLink and Charter already provide modest service. But nothing in the bill would keep either company from collecting state funds for themselves, to expand broadband into unserved areas.

The attempt to switch the bills during a state senate committee meeting was met with surprise and outrage by Cheyenne Mayor Marion Orr.

“I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn industry completely re-wrote proposed broadband legislation to their favor as a ‘substitute bill’ in legislative committee today,” Orr wrote on her Facebook page on Feb. 19. “The substitute bill is substantially different than the original bill. And it wasn’t posted online or anywhere for anyone except insiders to have access to. CenturyLink and Spectrum are bullies. It’s wrong, and they are hurting Cheyenne and other Wyoming communities from gaining affordable access.”

The committee working on the bill may have hoped to switch the bills without notice, but Orr was having none of that.

“As soon as I realized the committee was working a different version that none of us had access to – I spoke up,” she said. “The committee set it aside and will hear it again tomorrow night. This is NOT good governance and the committee realized it. I will stay on this. Guaranteed.”

The substitute bill appears to have subsequently passed and is still facing review by the state legislature.

Orr remains furious Wyoming’s telecom companies that have not delivered on ubiquitous, affordable broadband will now have more power than ever to determine who gets service, who pays to extend service, and what companies can provide it.

“It’s as important as turning on electricity, it’s as important as turning on a tap and having water, it’s an absolute must if we’re going to grow,” Orr said.

Altice USA: 90% of Our New Customers Want Broadband Speeds 100+ Mbps

Cablevision customers get very attractive promotions in the highly competitive northeastern United States, while Suddenlink customers in more rural areas pay more.

The majority of Cablevision and Suddenlink broadband customers want speeds of 100 Mbps or greater from the Altice-owned cable operators, and average monthly data usage by those customers is now reaching 200 GB per month.

Those statistics were part of a quarterly financial results presentation by Altice USA executives about how the company is doing in the United States.

Altice’s cable holdings include Cablevision, serving a generally affluent customer base in and around the New York City area where Verizon FiOS is its biggest competitor, and Suddenlink, which serves in less competitive markets where local economies are often challenged and phone company DSL still has a significant presence.

Regardless of whether customers receive broadband from Cablevision or Suddenlink, Altice USA CEO Dexter Goei made it clear consumers want faster internet service and are consuming exponentially more data than ever before.

Goei said Altice will continue to increase internet speeds over its existing hybrid fiber-coax network (HFC) even as it builds out its fiber to the home replacement network in some areas. At least 95% of Cablevision customers can now subscribe to 400 Mbps broadband on the company’s legacy HFC network. Around 72% of Suddenlink customers can get similar speeds today. Gigabit speed is available to 29% of Altice USA customers.

Goei said 90% of new Cablevision and Suddenlink customers now choose internet plans featuring 100 Mbps or faster broadband. The average data use of those customers “is now reaching about 200 GB” per month, Goei reported. For customers on HFC systems, Goei said the maximum speed Altice’s implementation of DOCSIS 3 can support is around 600 Mbps, depending on how many customers are sharing the connection. As customers transition to fiber service in the northeast, faster speeds are planned. In fact, Goei wants Cablevision to offer speeds even faster than Verizon FiOS, its chief competitor.

“In terms of the speed capabilities, we’ll have the ability to do higher speeds than the competition,” Goei said.

Altice USA’s fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) deployment is “well underway” in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, with plans to connect several hundred thousand customers to the new network starting later this year. Goei told investors Altice was accelerating the rollout this year with the hope of further reducing network and customer operation costs related to servicing the older coaxial network.

Cablevision and Suddenlink will gradually be rebranded as Altice, and the company has begun familiarizing customers with the new brand name in various ways, including the rollout of its new deluxe set-top box, called Altice One.

“This is our new entertainment platform with an all in one box, including TV, internet, Wi-Fi, integrated apps such as Netflix and a voice activated remote control,” said Goei. “The service includes an improved Wi-Fi experience […] as many TV boxes double up as Wi-Fi repeaters around the home. This is a key part of our strategy of enhancing the customer experience and we’ll have the capacity for ongoing upgrades and the addition of new apps as they become available.”

But that new platform comes at a cost. Currently, Cablevision customers can pay as much as $10 for each set-top box and $5 for a cable modem. Altice One is regularly priced at $25 a month — $10 more for a customer that has one television set-top box and cable modem. That makes Altice’s box among the most costly in the cable industry. The company is trying to hide the cost of its box by bundling it into promotions targeting price sensitive new customers.

In fact, the cost of service is increasingly becoming a factor, especially for Suddenlink customers. Over the last two years, Altice has been “harmonizing” Suddenlink’s rate plans, which used to be set based on the technical capabilities and performance of each cable system. Goei said Suddenlink comprised “five or six different customer bases” — each served by cable systems with different capabilities and rate plans. In the last two years, Suddenlink customers have been introduced to new rate plans, and some are paying considerably higher rates than before, especially for equipment and surcharges.

“All of that activity was probably more than we ever wanted to or anticipated as harmonizing all the different variables is not that easy,” Goei said. “And so we made a very concerted effort to not implement a usual or industry like price increase at the end of 2017, given all the various changes that happened over both customer bases as we harmonized them.” But Goei added the reprieve from rate hikes won’t last forever, promising a “rate event” strategy sometime this year, different from rate changes in past years.

Altice is emphasizing the progress it is making boosting internet speeds at its Cablevision and Suddenlink cable systems.

What Suddenlink and Cablevision charge for service is very dependent on what the competition is offering in Altice’s various markets. Goei paradoxically noted that some of the most attractive rates go to customers living in the most affluent areas of the New York Tri-State Area because of intense competition from Verizon FiOS. Prices have remained so low historically that, in Goei’s view, “it makes it very difficult for third parties to come into these markets” and compete with attractive offers that can match Cablevision. That also explains why Cablevision customers do not deal with data caps while Suddenlink customers often do.


Conversely, in Suddenlink service areas where less capable competitors exist, prices can be higher and service is considered less affordable. As a result, financial analysts have noted Suddenlink’s broadband growth has been anemic since Altice bought the company, presumably because would-be customers cannot afford the service or have chosen a more economic package sold by the phone company, even if it less capable.

Goei promised Altice would be more “nimble” in the future about targeting pricing in different service areas, taking current conditions on the ground into account when setting rates.

In more general terms, Altice is dealing with the same challenges most cable operators are facing these days. Cord-cutting continues to result in reduced numbers of video subscribers. The company also recently endured a multi-week programming dispute with Starz that cost the company video subscribers in the Cablevision service area. The dispute eventually ended with a new multi-year affiliation agreement that allows Altice systems to carry Starz and Starz Encore networks, on-demand services, and online access for several years.

But Altice clearly sees broadband as its key product going forward, which is why the company is upgrading its Cablevision and Suddenlink systems to support faster internet speeds.

Comcast Makes Surprise $31 Billion Bid for UK’s Sky Satellite Service

Comcast Corporation today made a surprise $31 billion bid to acquire Sky, the British-based satellite TV, internet, and wireless provider, disrupting a rival bid from 21st Century Fox, which spent years trying to acquire the 61% of Sky it doesn’t already own.

Comcast’s bid of £12.50 a share to acquire Sky outright is significantly higher than the £10.75/share offer Fox made to take total control of the satellite venture. A third player – Disney, has been in talks with Fox to acquire a substantial number of its assets, including its minority ownership stake in Sky, for $52 billion. But Comcast’s bid may change everything.

That three American companies are now competing to acquire Europe’s largest media company and biggest pay-TV broadcaster, with more than 23 million subscribers, could create concern among some regulators about foreign ownership of the media. A bid from Comcast is likely to be less controversial than dealing with Rupert Murdoch, however, who already has extensive media holdings in the United Kingdom.

There are three distinct possible bidders for Sky now:

  • Comcast, which prefers to take 100% ownership but will accept a majority stake shared with Fox (or possibly Disney).
  • Disney wants minority stake in Sky through its $52+ billion acquisition of some of Fox’s assets, including Fox’s part-ownership in Sky.
  • Fox, which has sought to take full control of Sky for several years but has met with resistance was originally the most likely buyer. But more recently, Rupert Murdoch has recently shown a willingness to sell some of Fox’s assets, including Sky, if the price is right.

Sky’s share price leaped more than 20% today to £13.47—well above the Comcast offer—as investors believe there will be a bidding war over Sky. Because many hedge funds and investors expect Fox will increase its bid to match Comcast, in turn boosting the value of Sky’s stock, investors are accumulating shares at a rapid pace and driving up share prices further.

Sky has become increasingly valuable because it isn’t just a satellite TV provider. Sky also develops its own original productions, has valuable sports rights deals, and sells broadband and mobile phone service. American media companies are consolidating, preferring to own both the pipes that deliver internet content and the content itself. Acquiring Sky would allow Fox, Disney, and/or Comcast to showcase its own productions in Europe and to a lesser extent import Sky products into the United States.

Regulators in the United Kingdom are likely to press any buyer to protect the independence of Sky News, a well-regarded 24-hour news channel. Many expect regulators to insist that Sky’s buyer  agree to fund Sky for at least 10 years and guarantee its editorial independence.

Charter/Spectrum Launches ‘Choice’, a True A-La-Carte Video Package for $25

Charter Communications has introduced internet-delivered cable television packages that its cable TV subscribers have requested for years, including one offering a true a-la-carte lineup of network TV channels and the customer’s choice of 10 cable channels for $25 a month.

Spectrum Choice was soft-launched this week and is a companion to a larger internet-delivered package of TV services targeting cord-cutters called Spectrum Stream, which is also available in many areas.

Although Spectrum customers can visit the order page to sign up for Spectrum Choice immediately, when we tested it this afternoon we found the website was not able to complete an order. It turns out Spectrum is initially “hand-selecting” about 100,000 customers in selected areas for Spectrum Choice, but won’t disclose exactly where those areas are. We know from some reviews, it is available in parts of Ohio.

For now, would-be customers can try building their own package from at least 65 cable networks, including several networks Spectrum usually bundles into higher cost Silver and Gold packages. For example, Turner Classic Movies, Hallmark Movies and Mysteries, and FX Movie Channel are all available to choose. Spectrum Choice also offers all three major cable news networks as well as Spectrum News (where available). ESPN, ESPN II, FOX Sports, NBC Sports Network, and NFL Network are also available for sports fans. Even Music Choice is included.

Spectrum Choice customers are not tied down with a bloated package of channels, except for the included large bundle of local stations, which includes ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, CW, MyNetworkTV, PBS, and independent/foreign language over the air stations. The availability of public television is a rarity among online cable TV alternatives. In most areas, digital subchannels like Grit and MeTV are also included, depending on what networks are provided by stations in your area. You will also get several shopping channels, C-SPAN I, II, and III, and local Public, Educational, and Government Access channels as seen on your local cable system.

If you visit their website can complete an order online, you are qualified to receive their service. If there is no option to move forward to complete an order, you are not qualified to sign up at this time, but check back later or call Spectrum and ask.

The service relies on the Spectrum TV app (available on iOS, Android, Roku, and Xbox One) and the Spectrum website to stream video programming to customers, and no set-top box is required. DVR service is not worth the effort or cost. It requires a traditional DVR set top box and you can only watch recorded shows on the television connected to the DVR. Be aware there are also restrictions viewing some channels outside of the home, just as Spectrum’s cable TV customers already understand:

Linear OOH: Watching a live channel while away from home
VOD OOH: Watching on-demand content while away from home
TVE App Name: TV Everywhere App Name – Independent apps used by programmers or viewing on their websites
VOD Parity: Cable TV and Spectrum Choice customers get access to the same on-demand programming options.

Details (click the name of the package for more information):

Spectrum Choice TV

    If you don’t mind Charter/Spectrum choosing your channel lineup, a second option offers more channels for about the same price.

  • 7-day money back guarantee/trial, then $15 for the first month
  • To get the service, you must have an internet-only plan or an internet + voice plan from Spectrum. You cannot be a current traditional cable TV subscriber
  • After the first month, the service costs $25 per month for the first two years, including the Broadcast TV Surcharge, but excluding tax
  • After 24 months, price increases to $30 a month
  • Your assigned Spectrum TV username and password will also work on websites that authenticate you as a qualified cable TV customer
  • Premium channels are $7.50 each for HBO, Showtime, The Movie Channel, Starz, and Starz Encore or bundle all-five for $15 a month for two years. Epix is also available a-la-carte.

Spectrum Stream TV

  • $21.99 a month (not including $3 Broadcast TV Surcharge) for 25+ pre-selected channels including local stations and major basic cable networks
  • All features included with Choice TV work similarly except the lineup is not a-la-carte. But you may get more channels at a comparable price.
  • After two years, the price increases to $26.99. Starting in year three, the price rises again to $34.99.
  • The same $15 promotion for five premium movie networks noted above applies, if interested.

Spectrum’s promotion of Stream TV. (1:00)

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