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Viacom, Booted Off Some Basic TV Tiers, Plans Own $10-20 Non-Sports TV Package

Viacom, which owns cable networks including Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, MTV, BET, and TV Land, will launch a cheap non-sports bundle of entertainment cable networks viewable online for $10-20 a month this year.

Viacom has lost basic cable viewers at an accelerating rate as cable operators drop their networks or repackage them in more expensive basic tiers as Viacom raises wholesale rates cable companies pay to carry the channels.

Viacom CEO Bob Bakish talked about the new service this morning at the J.P. Morgan Global Technology, Media and Telecom Conference in Boston. Bakish said most of the current “skinny cable TV” bundles were priced at around $40 a month, which is too expensive to attract “cord-never millennials” that frequently don’t subscribe to cable television.

“The transformational opportunity is to bring in a new entry segment at a much lower price point,” Bakish said. The cable industry needs “a path to bring in someone who wants high-quality entertainment” but has no interest in expensive sports networks.

That is why Bakish wants to create a cheap entertainment-oriented bundle of networks that omits sports-related channels. But Bakish has also repeatedly stressed he has no intention of giving consumers a comprehensive online alternative to traditional cable TV, telling investors Viacom is “not creating inexpensive opportunities to serve as an alternative.”

Bloomberg News reported Viacom was talking to Discovery and AMC Networks about participating in the new service. The only complication may be a backlash from sports programmers like Walt Disney’s ESPN and 21st Century Fox, Inc., which have contracts requiring providers to include the sports networks in their most popular bundles. Some contracts even limit how many customers are permitted to sign up for a sports-free TV package, according to Michael Nathanson, an analyst at MoffettNathanson LLC.

“It’s meant to dissuade distributors from doing something like this,” Nathanson told Bloomberg. “The issue is how many subscribers they can have before the legal questions appear.”

Bakish may also be trying to remind cable and satellite companies that Viacom can always go direct-to-consumers if operators banish Viacom’s networks off the cable dial or move them to a more expensive tier, although there is no guarantee the new service will bundle all of Viacom’s networks.

Viacom has seen its relationships with cable and satellite providers deteriorate over the last few years under prior management. Some smaller cable companies including Cable One dropped Viacom channels from their cable systems over cost issues in 2014, and many more subscribers have seen Viacom networks temporarily dropped as a result of contract renewal disputes. Bakish has made repairing relations with cable and satellite customers a priority since taking over as CEO in December, but he still has a way to go.

Recently, Charter Communications moved Viacom networks out of its Select basic cable TV package and moved them to its most expensive Gold package for new customers. With only a minority of customers signed up for Gold service, Viacom networks could eventually lose millions of viewers as Time Warner Cable and Bright House customers adopt Spectrum packages in the next few years. If those customers do not subscribe to Gold or refuse to pay extra for a “digipak” of Gold’s basic channels without the premium networks, they will lose access to Viacom channels when they change TV plans.

That issue also concerns Wall Street analysts who believe it could eventually erode Viacom’s viewer base. Bakish made certain to tell investors Viacom was not surrendering to Charter’s “re-tiering.”

“We firmly don’t believe they have the rights to do that,” Bakish said. “We’ve been in discussions with them. We’ve got to get that resolved.”

If it is resolved, those networks may again be available to Select TV customers.

Viacom, AMC, and Discovery are partnering up to offer a $10-20 entertainment-only package on streaming basic cable networks for consumers, as this Bloomberg News story reports. (2:58)

CBS All Access Offers Showtime Add-On for Existing Customers

Phillip Dampier May 11, 2017 Competition, Consumer News, Online Video 1 Comment

CBS is now offering CBS All Access and Showtime’s standalone service customers a bundled package of both services for up to $2 off.

Starting now, current customers who visit their account page on either service will have the option of adding either CBS All Access or Showtime to their account. CBS will expand the service to new subscribers at a later point, so if you have neither service today, you cannot get this offer yet.

Prices reflect a bundling discount. Showtime itself normally costs $10.99/month. CBS All Access costs $5.99 a month with commercials, $9.99 without.

  • Showtime with CBS All Access Limited Commercial Plan: $14.99 (save $1)
  • Showtime with CBS All Access No Commercial Plan: $18.99 (save $2)

CBS CEO Les Moonves has promised a bundled offer since last year, and now it has arrived.

Once subscribed, customers can access both services on desktop computers, mobile devices, tablets, and streaming video boxes like Roku.

One benefit of CBS All Access is the option of live-streaming your local CBS station, available in about 90% of U.S. households. CBS is taking steps to broaden online distribution of CBS affiliated stations on other streaming platforms as well, which could make CBS the first network to offer wide access to local stations on emerging live streaming platforms like Hulu TV, YouTube TV, and DirecTV Now.

CBS claims about 1.65 million customers subscribe to Showtime’s online streaming service and almost the same number subscribe to CBS’ All Access Pass. In comparison, HBO Now, available on a standalone basis, has around two million subscribers.

Hulu’s Streaming Live TV Launches; $39.99 for Hulu, 50 Live TV Channels + Cloud DVR Service

Phillip Dampier May 3, 2017 Competition, Consumer News, Online Video, Video 2 Comments

The long anticipated wait for Hulu’s live streaming cable-TV replacement is over with today’s soft launch of Hulu with Live TV, offering 50 cable networks and local affiliates of ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX in select larger cities.

“Hulu can now be a viewer’s primary source of television,” said Hulu CEO Mike Hopkins. “It’s a natural extension of our business, and an exciting new chapter for Hulu.”

The new service will bundle Hulu’s live/linear TV service with its well-known on-demand package of movies and television shows. The service represents a direct challenge to cable television subscriptions and for Hulu’s owners — Disney, 21st Century Fox, Comcast’s NBCUniversal and Time Warner, Inc., is the first major industry effort to keep subscription fees closer to home, and cuts out the cable middleman.

The lineup includes many, but not all, popular cable networks. There are very significant gaps — notably Viacom networks Hulu says it has no plans to add (Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, MTV). Also missing: AMC, Discovery Networks, HBO/Cinemax and Starz. Showtime is available for $8.99 a month.

The lineup:

Fox
Fox Local Station (New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Chicago)
Big Ten Network
Fox Business Network
Fox News Channel
Fox regional sports networks
Fox Sports 1
Fox Sports 2
FX
FXX
FXM
National Geographic Channel
National Geographic Wild

Disney
ABC Local Station (New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Chicago)
ESPN
ESPN2
ESPNU
ESPNEWS
ESPN-SEC Network
Freeform
Disney Channel
Disney XD
Disney Junior

Comcast/NBCUniversal
NBC Local Station (New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Chicago)
Telemundo Local Station (New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Chicago)
Comcast RSNs
NECN
USA Network
Bravo
E!
Syfy
MSNBC
CNBC
NBCSN
Golf Channel
Chiller
Oxygen Network
Sprout

A+E Networks
A&E
History
Lifetime
Viceland
Lifetime Movie Network (LMN)
FYI

Scripps Networks Interactive
Food Network
HGTV
Travel Channel

Turner Broadcasting
CNN
HLN
CNN International
TBS
TNT
TruTV
TCM
Turner Classic Movies
Cartoon Network & Adult Swim
Boomerang

CBS
CBS Local Station (New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Chicago)
CBS Sports Network
POP
Showtime ($8.99 per month extra)

(Broadcast stations may be available in certain other cities, but not all network affiliates are included.)

Hulu with Live TV is available on Microsoft’s Xbox One, Apple TV (fourth generation), iOS and Android mobile devices, and Google’s Chromecast. Future support for Roku, Amazon’s Fire TV and Fire TV Stick and Samsung Smart TVs will come later. Oddly, desktop viewing on a Mac or PC is not currently supported.

The new service joins an increasingly crowded marketplace of online cable television replacements, including Dish’s pioneering Sling TV, Sony’s game console-platform PlayStation Vue, AT&T’s DirecTV Now, and YouTube TV — the newest before today.

Hulu’s most formidable competitor in the streaming TV space will likely be AT&T’s DirecTV Now service, which offers a broader range of networks and has become popular for its promotional equipment offers. Hulu plans to counter AT&T with a marketing effort that highlights its existing on-demand service of more than 3,000 TV shows and movies is included with every subscription.

Hulu also comes bundled with its own limited cloud DVR storage service, which will record up to 50 hours of programming. But similar to Google’s YouTube TV, customers will not be able to skip the commercials that are included in the shows they record. In fact, advertisers will be able to dynamically change their advertising spots in recorded shows as long as the customer keeps them in their personal recordings library. Customers will need to upgrade to “Premium DVR” service ($14.99) to enable fast-forwarding through ads. The premium DVR add-on also includes 200 hours of storage, unlimited simultaneous recordings, and the ability to watch recorded shows outside of the home.

Customers signed up to the base package will be able to create up to six individual profiles for the household, which allows each user to track and “favorite” TV shows and movies they enjoy the most. The service will provide recommended shows based on each person’s viewing habits. The feature also allows each family member to choose their favorite sports teams and Hulu will automatically record any available game that includes a favorite team.

Base subscribers get up to two simultaneous streams of live and recorded content. An “Unlimited Screens” add-on ($14.99) removes the limit and allows unlimited home streams and up to three concurrent streams outside of the home. Customers who want both Premium DVR and Unlimited Screens can bundle both features together for $20 a month — a $10 savings.

An introduction to Hulu’s new interface and live TV option. (1:55)

Sling TV Offers $50 AirTV Player for Subs Who Prepay 3 Months of Service

Phillip Dampier April 25, 2017 Competition, Consumer News, Online Video, Sling No Comments

AirTV Player

Sling TV subscribers that prepay for three months of Sling TV’s $20/mo “Orange” 30-channel streaming cable TV plan can get an AirTV Player + Adapter for $50, a discount of $79.99 off the $129.99 retail price.

Dish Network’s Sling TV service rebranded its service today, in light of competitive pressure from AT&T’s DirecTV Now and new streaming services from YouTube and Hulu. The company ditched its “basic TV” marketing pitch and has now recast the service as “A La Carte TV,” but the changes are in name-only. There is nothing different about the packages or pricing, just the marketing message pushing their packages.

“A La Carte TV is choice in an industry that prevents it,” the Sling TV website states. “Personalize your own channel lineup. Start with the service that’s best for you, then customize with Extras in your favorite TV genres like Sports, Comedy, Kids, News, Lifestyle, Hollywood Movies, and Spanish TV. Change your service online anytime.”

“As we expected, competitors are coming out of the woodwork,” wrote Sling TV CEO Roger Lynch in a blog post. “However, we didn’t expect that they’d drag three key pieces of Old TV baggage with them: bloated bundles, higher prices and lack of flexibility. The only choices these competitors give consumers is a big bundle or even bigger bundles. That isn’t the choice consumers want. Plus, they’re making people pay for features and channels they may not want. The ‘new guys’ are missing the point and re-creating the sins of Old TV.”

Lynch admits Sling TV isn’t true “a la carte,” because subscribers still end up with channels they don’t want.

“Every consumer would love to just pay $20 and then choose the twenty channels they want,” Lynch wrote. “And we would love that too. We would do that in a heartbeat if programmers would let us…but they won’t.”

Sling TV is also attempting to find a niche targeting international audiences with packages of international networks that are either not available on cable, or can cost a fortune.

“Sling TV is the only pay-TV service that offers the ability to subscribe only to programming from a specific region, including Mexico, Spain, South America and the Caribbean,” Lynch wrote, adding the service now offers more than 300 channels across more than 20 language groups.

The total price of the three-months of prepaid Orange service and the AirPlay TV + Adapter is $124.97, before state and local sales taxes are applied. Subscribers can also qualify for the deal with other packages:

  • Prepay for four months of Sling TV if your monthly payment is between $15-$20 and get AirTV Player and AirTV Adapter for $50.
  • Prepay for six months of Sling TV if your monthly payment is under $15 and get AirTV Player and AirTV Adapter for $50.

Sling TV customers can visit sling.com/devices/airtv to buy the bundle. A separate deal offering a 25% discount off an RCA indoor TV antenna was not working at the time this article was written. Existing Sling TV customers can also qualify for this promotion by writing to the company’s social media team on Sling TV’s Facebook page.

The AirTV Player allows users to combine over-the-air free TV with streaming services without having to change viewing sources on your television.

Wall Street Analyst: Cable Monopoly Will Double Your Broadband Bill

Thought paying $65 a month for broadband service is too much? Just wait a few years when one Wall Street analyst predicts you will be paying twice that rate for internet access, all because the cable industry is gradually achieving a high-speed broadband monopoly.

Jonathan Chaplin, New Street Research analyst, predicts as a result of cord-cutting and the retreat of phone companies from offering high-speed internet service competition, the cable industry will win as much as 72.2% of the broadband market by the year 2020. With it, they also win the power to raise prices both fast and furiously.

In a note to investors, Chapin wrote the number of Americans left to sign up for broadband service for the first time has dwindled, and most of the rest of new customer additions will come at the expense of phone companies, especially those still selling nothing better than DSL.

“Our long-term penetration forecast is predicated on cable increasing its market share, given a strong network advantage in 70% of the country (this assumes that telco fiber deployment increases from 16% of the country today to close to 30% five years from now),” Chaplin wrote.

Cable companies already control 65% of the U.S. broadband market as of late last year. Chaplin points out large cable operators have largely given up on slapping usage caps and usage pricing on broadband service to replace revenue lost from TV cord-cutting, so now they are likely going to raise general broadband pricing on everyone.

“Comcast and Charter have given up on usage-based pricing for now; however, we expect them to continue annual price increases,” Chaplin said. “As the primary source of value to households shifts increasingly from pay-TV to broadband, we would expect the cable companies to reflect more of the annual rate increases they push through on their bundles to be reflected in broadband than in the past. Interestingly, Comcast is now pricing standalone broadband at $85 for their flagship product, which is a $20 premium to the rack rate bundled price.”

Chaplin himself regularly cheerleads cable operators to do exactly as he predicts: raise prices. Back in late 2015, Chaplin pestered then CEO Robert Marcus of Time Warner Cable about why TWC was avoiding data caps, and in June of that year, Chaplin sent a note to investors claiming broadband was too cheap.

“Our analysis suggests that broadband as a product is underpriced,” Chaplin wrote. new street research“Our work suggests that cable companies have room to take up broadband pricing significantly and we believe regulators should not oppose the re-pricing (it is good for competition & investment).”

“The companies will undoubtedly have to take pay-TV pricing down to help ‘fund’ the price increase for broadband, but this is a good thing for the business,” Chaplin added. “Post re-pricing, [online video] competition would cease to be a threat and the companies would grow revenue and free cash flow at a far faster rate than they would otherwise.”

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  • Required: It's hard to believe people who just need entry level internet access are willing to pay $65/mo for that, alone. No wonder so many customers are fleei...
  • FredH: I keep hearing that (about trying to eliminate the 7 year no-data-cap requirement) and wonder how it's even possible. I hope the NYS AG will get invo...
  • John: It might be a problem with a person with disablities tries to pay and they charge them....
  • John: Well, time for everyone to start paying them by snail mail, then....
  • Mike D.: And for those who are planning to "cut the cord" after a promotion expires, be aware that Charter is lobbying the new administration and FCC chairman ...
  • Dylan: Huh, that's interesting regarding that Spectrum only saves 3/10 of its customers. Maybe there is something going on. And regarding my own promotion -...
  • Phillip Dampier: You were not on a promotion before which is why you got one this time. One year from now when your bill spikes and you call and complain, they will te...
  • Dylan: It's not that hard to get new customer pricing from Spectrum. I used to be a TWC customer paying $65/mo for 50 Mbps down internet. Once Spectrum came...
  • NM: Phillip, You may be interested in today's online story in Syracuse.com about what Spectrum's customers in CNY think about the merged company: http://...
  • Jim J: Dial tone is dial tone....
  • Julia: Even in life after TWC, if customer complaints remain the same or if a customer service rep claimed to have fixed a problem, but really didn't, you ca...
  • DPNY: As soon as Spectrum took over, my bill went up (a couple of dollars, but still)! I pay almost $250 a month as it is now for the package! I can think...

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