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Pay Television in Denial: Linear TV is on Life Support; Do You Still Watch Live Television?

Phillip Dampier June 9, 2015 Editorial & Site News, Online Video 5 Comments
acura

Ranger

While fast-forwarding through the 5,000th time I’ve briefly endured the mangling of Blondie’s “Rapture,” in those 2015 Acura RDX ads, I concluded two things:

  • I will never buy an Acura RDX, if only to deliver the message that grating ads first thing in the morning will not win you any sale from me;
  • I have not watched a commercial (on purpose) since 2011.

Ironically, the young woman behind the wheel of the aforementioned Acura is none other than Chelsea Ranger, who became a YouTube sensation after her husband recorded his wife rapping in the car to Salt-n-Pepa’s “None of Your Business,” itself an irony. Ranger’s singing was viewed by 17 million people watching a recorded YouTube video instead of cable television. Like popcorn, nobody quits after just one. YouTube is a confirmed time wormhole, where hours can disappear in what seemed like just a few minutes. This phenomena can also be experienced with Netflix, Amazon, or a myriad of other multimedia websites where on-demand entertainment is always on. How can it be 2am already? Darn, it’s too late to watch Anthony Bourdain and 18 minutes of ads on CNN now.

tv-ad-load-versus-video-ad-load-2014-augustine-fou-1-638Advertisers wondering how many viewers actually spend time watching their commercials are right to be worried. Some have tried to cover their bases by spreading ad budgets around to include online video advertising. But when the online ads become meddlesome (Hulu, anyone?), here comes ad blocking software. No more Geico ads on YouTube, but the experience is less fulfilling watching a blank screen for a few minutes on certain other services. You might actually have to talk to the person sitting next to you.

What cannot be found online can be recorded with a DVR, if only to build up enough buffered video to blow right past those ad breaks. Others collect entire seasons of favorite shows, reserved for binge viewing later. All of this after-the-fact viewing is conditioning you (like a gateway drug) for a future life without linear/live television. You started just to be rid of the advertising, but now you seriously toy with getting rid of cable TV if you can find enough to watch online.

There are exceptions, of course. News and sports junkies are often uncomfortable watching recordings of in-the-moment events. Others cannot imagine losing sports aired on ESPN or CNN for breaking news. But beyond these groups, the chains that hold us to the linear 500-channel pay television universe are rusting.

Phillip "Ad nauseum" Dampier

Phillip “Ad nauseum” Dampier

Getting off the cable television drug is easiest if you never started. That is why Millennials, often cable-nevers, are among the least likely to buy a cable television package. They don’t miss what they never watched, preferring the personalized viewing of their mobile device or tablet over the family television. For those that grew up with the cable box and have never been without it, there was always suspicion that the stories from brave souls who canceled service and never regretted it come from closeted book-reading Luddites.

But consider for a moment you may already be watching less cable television than you think. Spend a week and take note of how much time you spend with the cable box. Then compare it with how many hours you watch Roku, YouTube, Apple TV, Netflix, or any other non-linear television experience. If you can find more to watch on YouTube than on cable, ditching pay TV may not be as hard as you think.

The cable industry’s response to the challenge of online video has been to shoot itself in the foot. Despite the constant complaints that cable programming costs are rising out of control, there is always room for more networks customers did not ask to receive. Navigating cumbersome set-top box software means many customers won’t find those new channels anyway. But they will pay for them.

The higher the price of cable television, the less value many place on it.

People-skipping-the-Preroll-adsCable operator (and network) greed has effectively ruined the industry’s best chance to prove continued value in an increasingly on-demand viewing world. TV Everywhere was supposed to make the 500 channel universe accessible online and on-demand for authenticated paying customers.

Some networks want customers to watch on their websites, others deliver shows on-demand from a set-top box. Instead of envisioning a TV Everywhere model to compete with online video, most cable companies are turning it into the equivalent of a DVR viewing experience with the fast-forward button disabled.

Comcast and Time Warner Cable make enormous amounts of free video available to customers. At the beginning, programmers used an informal honor system. In return for a quick pre-show advertisement and limited commercial interruptions, viewers wouldn’t bother ad-skipping if it meant they could watch a one-hour show in less than 50 minutes. Start inserting five 30 second commercials in every ad break and viewers will start looking for the remote control.

The challenge: should cable companies side with their customers and deliver a compelling TV Everywhere experience or with their bean counters, cramming ads into every available spot. Many are choosing the money. When customers rebelled and began to fast forward through the ads, the cable company retaliated by disabling that option (sometimes, it must be admitted, at the behest of a cable or broadcast network).

But it has gotten worse. For absolutely no reason other than to torture customers, Comcast is notorious for running a very small number of ads aired over and over and over again. Nothing makes television less fun than the same car ad repeated 10-15 times in a single one-hour show. Less is more is not a concept known to the cable industry. As a result, they will now have fewer television customers.

There is nothing about this quest for cash that has not been repeated in other forms of entertainment. Corporate commercial radio with 10 minute ad breaks drove listeners to Sirius XM or MP3 players. Running three minutes of ads to a captive movie theater audience that just paid $10 for a seat will not bring a theater chain any fans. The traditional 30-second ad is increasingly dead in the online world and advertisers and the companies that show them should adopt to the new reality instead of trying to force compliance to the “old ways.”

The cable industry earned its bad reputation by not listening to customers. Now that those customers have a choice to watch something else, the $80 cable TV bill is increasingly expendable as viewers cut the cord and never look back.

Is your linear TV experience not what it used to be? How often are you watching non-news/sports shows live? When the commercials start, do you reflexively reach for the remote control? Are you spending time with cable’s TV Everywhere on demand services? Share your thoughts in the comment section.

Drahi Readies His Next Move: “If I Buy Five Smaller Cable Companies, I Am as Big as Time Warner Cable”

Drahi

Drahi

Patrick Drahi, the billionaire ruthless cost-cutting owner of Altice SA told a French parliamentary hearing he didn’t go ahead with a serious bid for Time Warner Cable because he lacked enough management talent to run a huge cable company in a country he only recently entered.

“I didn’t follow up on the exchanges we had on Time Warner Cable that were mentioned in the media because we were not ready,” Drahi told a French parliamentary hearing on Wednesday.

Drahi testified French-owned banks were ready to help finance a deal that would have stolen Time Warner Cable away from Charter Communications. Instead, Drahi has decided to spend a little time digesting his acquisition of Suddenlink to gain experience in the U.S. cable market before he moves on other cable operators. Drahi believes he will be the only buyer left to cut major cable consolidation deals.

“Time is on our side” for the U.S. expansion,” Drahi said. “The two leaders Comcast and Charter will not be able to buy anything else because of their size so we will have an open boulevard ahead of us. If I buy five small operators, I can be as big as Time Warner Cable.”

The five most-likely cable operators Drahi will pursue, according to a business editor at RFI, the French overseas broadcaster: Cablevision, Cox, Mediacom, WOW!, and Cable One. Cox and Mediacom are privately held and Cablevision is tightly controlled by its founding Dolan family, so Drahi will likely have to sweeten deals to convince all three to sell.

Reuters reports Drahi is especially interested in the smaller, less profitable operators because they are ripe for his brand of cost management and consolidation-related savings.

“Even better, that means we will have room to improve them,” Drahi said.

Drahi remained enthusiastic about Cablevision, despite the fact it serves one of the most competitive markets blanketed by Verizon FiOS in the United States.

“It’s good actually since it means they know how to compete,” Drahi said.

Drahi’s reputation is well-known in Europe based on his earlier acquisitions. Altice favors telecom and cable companies seen as poorly managed or undervalued which Drahi targets for massive cost-slashing to improve profitability. The investments he does make are largely to benefit high-end customers he values the most.

Comcast Raising Rates July 1st; Higher Cable TV Surcharges, $3 More for Double-Play Broadband/TV Package

Phillip Dampier May 26, 2015 Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News 8 Comments

comcastJust in time for the summer fireworks, Comcast’s own rate explosion may be arriving in your mailbox. The cable company is boosting rates on cable television and broadband service in several regions, including higher Broadcast TV surcharges and, for some, the introduction of a new compulsory sports programming fee. Comcast customers shared their rate increase letter with Broadband Reports.

The original notification letter was littered with grammatical and spelling errors and obviously was never proofread. Maybe they are using the extra money to hire someone to help out with that. We’ve translated the text into the English language:

At Comcast, we are committed to constantly improving your entertainment and communications experience, and we continue to invest in making your services even better. Due to increases we incur in programming and other business costs, we periodically need to adjust our prices as we make these and other investments.

Starting on July 1, 2015, the prices of select XFINITY TV and Internet services and equipment will change. We’ve included the changes in this notice. Among these price changes, we have itemized a Regional Sports fee for customers receiving Digital Starter service tiers and above to offset the rising costs of distributing regional sports networks.

In the Atlanta area, a sample of rate changes include: a Limited Basic rate hike between $1-3 a month, a Standard Cable increase of $1 a month, a $2 hike in HD DVR Service (was $8, soon to be $10), a $1 Regional Sports fee, a $1.75 a month increase in the Broadcast TV Fee (this varies widely in different Comcast markets), and a $3 increase in the cost of Blast! With XFINITY TV or Voice Service (was $67.95, now $70.95). The modem rental fee remains unchanged at $10/mo.

Rates are unaffected for customers on term contracts or promotions until those plans expire. It will also not affect customers who have previously received a notification of a rate hike during 2015.

Time Warner Cable Maxx Developments in Charlotte, N.C., San Antonio

Phillip Dampier May 14, 2015 Consumer News, Time Warner Cable 3 Comments

twc maxxTime Warner Cable is notifying its customers in Charlotte, N.C. to prepare for the transition to all-digital cable television service which will be complete by the end of this summer. Further south, San Antonio customers can swing by their local cable store and pick up Time Warner Cable’s new terabyte DVR, which can record up to six different programs at the same time and store six times more content than current DVR boxes.

The changes are part of Time Warner Cable’s Maxx upgrade program, which will vastly increase broadband speeds and deliver an all-digital experience to current customers in cities where the upgrade is underway.

“The bad news is you need boxes on all of your televisions,” writes Stop the Cap! reader Susan in Charlotte, who had to pick up three new set-top boxes to keep cable television running in her home. “They are going to move channels in groups to digital-only service over the summer so you will gradually lose your cable television unless you have a box on every set.”

The transition begins in early June and will last into August. Time Warner is offering customers a digital adapter to bring back the digital-only channels on older televisions. Those ordering before Dec. 10 will get them free until Aug. 11, 2016. After that, they will cost $2.75 a month each.

“Weren’t they going to rent these things for $0.99 a month,” asks Susan.

Indeed, when Time Warner Cable unveiled the small devices, they promoted the post-promotional price as $0.99 a month. Earlier this year, the price jumped to $2.75 without explanation. Standard set-top boxes can cost $7 or more a month, but are equipped with an on-screen guide and can access on-demand shows that the digital adapters cannot.

In San Antonio, customers can ditch their old DVR for a major upgrade with more storage space and a better user experience, or so the company claims. Current DVR users should be able to swap out the equipment by bringing in their existing box for an exchange. Be aware all recorded shows will be lost.

While Your Cable TV Bill Rises Due to “Increased Programming Costs,” So Are Advertising Loads

cablebill-web

Cablevision’s broadcast TV surcharge increased in January to $5.98 a month, which amounts to $71.76 a year, on top of your usual cable TV bill.

No it isn’t your imagination. While a growing number of cable television subscribers now face a “broadcast programming surcharge” on their cable bill to compensate television stations and networks for cable carriage, those same channels are larding up their programming with ever-increasing advertising. One quarter of every hour of network television is now littered with commercials — an all-time high for broadcast networks seeking to maximize advertising revenue.

Show openings have been cut to seconds, credits roll by at fast-forward speed – usually compressed into illegibility, and some cable networks have returned to the practice of chopping bits of shows and compressing playback of others to accommodate more commercials. That does not include product placement or “in-program” compensated advertising, which appears when a character picks up a can of Pepsi, walks by a Subway outlet, or reaches for a Pop-Tart for breakfast.

As early as 2009, TNS Media Intelligence found at least 36% of today’s network primetime shows were advertising-oriented. That included 7:59 of in-show brand appearances and 13:52 of commercial advertisements, for a combined total of 21:51 of marketing content.

Reality shows, as well as being cheap to produce, are product placement gold. America’s Toughest Jobs contained 44:50 per hour of advertising messages and product placement, The Biggest Loser ran up 40:37. Before the reality show craze, game shows were program-length commercials in disguise. Game show producers received an endless supply of prizes to give away in return for viewers enduring relentless 10-15 second pitches for Rice-a-Roni, crock pots, living room furniture sets, and current model cars and trucks. Viewers did not escape traditional advertisements along the way either.

Through much of the 1970s and early 1980s, an average hour of network television was between 48-52 minutes of programming, 8-12 minutes of network and local commercials. Short news breaks and public service announcements were often included during those breaks. Shows targeting children usually contained less advertising.

In 1984, the Reagan Administration deregulated broadcasters, claiming the free market was best equipped to contain any abusive practices as consumers theoretically could tune out stations and networks that allowed things to get out-of-hand.

In reality, what one network decided, the others usually followed. Outside of watching commercial-free PBS (although those sponsorship messages increasingly began to resemble traditional advertising over the years), viewers didn’t have much choice. For the last 31 years since deregulation, advertising has increased while show length has decreased. In the 1970s and 80s, pieces of rerun television shows created when ad loads were shorter were often cut from shows to make room for an extra ad or two. What was left after a trip to the cutting room was often played slightly sped-up, which made room for even more advertising. By the 1990s, producers created their shows with increasing advertising loads in mind. Short sacrificial 60-90 second end scenes, deemed non-essential to the show’s integrity, were often chopped when a show entered syndication.

In the 2000s, network executives started demanding producers drastically cut the length of show opening and closing themes. If producers didn’t, studios did it for them when a show was resold to a cable network. A rerun of Law & Order now features a 24-second opening, a big difference from the original 1:45 second opening the show had when it originally aired on NBC. End credits were usually squished on-screen to allow a 15-second network promotion to run at the top. Some networks even began their next show in one window while showing end credits of the last program in another.

But nothing affected commercial loads more than the 2008 Great Recession. Advertising revenue tumbled, along with the economy, and advertisers balked at paying traditional ad rates when online advertising was available for much less. The answer? Sell more ads… at a lower price. Once again, program lengths had to be cut to make room for the increasing number of commercials. By 2009, average network ad loads were up to 13:25 per hour. Just four years later in 2013, that number spiked to 14:15. It’s now 15 minutes and up at some networks, depending on the type of program.

As commercials neared comprising 25% of every hour of television, sponsors finally began to rebel. They were reacting to the pervasive growth of the DVR, which allowed consumers to record their favorite shows, if only to fast forward past the dense thicket of commercials. They sought a ceiling on ad loads and more creative ways to reach ad-skipping audiences numbed by relentless advertising. That meant even more product placement.

Although sponsors of expensive NBC, CBS, ABC, and FOX shows may have rebelled at the 15-minute mark, the same isn’t true with cable networks where ad loads are as high as 24 minutes per hour. In 2009, the average cable network aired 14:27 of advertisements an hour. This year, it’s up to 15:18 and still rising. Among the worst offenders:

ad load

To keep the money flowing from every direction, both over-the-air and cable networks, including those noted above, continue to seek additional compensation from your provider in the form of retransmission consent and carriage agreements. Whether you watch a channel or not, you are paying for it. Some of these compensation agreements are experiencing rate increases approaching 10% annually.

To the surprise of many industry analysts, some of the worst offenders are networks with declining ratings who risk further alienating viewers with even more advertising just to keep revenue numbers up. While traditional ads actually declined by 2% on most over the air networks this year, FOX more than made up for that with a 15% increase in advertising time. The cable networks with the highest ad increases this year were Viacom-owned channels (Comedy Central, Spike, MTV, Nickelodeon) jumping 13%, A+E Networks (A&E, Crime & Investigation, Lifetime, History) increasing 10%, and 9% at Discovery Networks. Which networks increased ads the least? Those owned by Disney, independent cable networks, and Time Warner (Entertainment).

“Generally speaking, the ratings winners (Disney, 21st Century Fox, Scripps Networks) are increasing investment in original content (and not abusively increasing ad loads), whereas the losers (A+E Networks, Viacom, NBCUniversal) and the neutrals (Discovery, AMC Networks) are decelerating investment in original content and stuffing more ad spots into their shows,” said analyst Todd Juenger of Sanford C. Bernstein.

Michael Nathanson of MoffetNathanson Research worries television is repeating the mistakes commercial radio made post-deregulation, when massive increases in advertising accompanied by decelerating investment in programming repelled many listeners, perhaps for good. Some have permanently abandoned commercial over the air radio in favor of commercial free music services, satellite radio, and streaming services.

“Networks can offset ratings challenges and pricing weakness with more inventory, however, we worry that it is a dangerous long-term game that ultimately devalues the consumer experience and reduces ad efficacy,” Nathanson said. “As we saw with radio, once the increased commercial load genie is out of the bottle, it is nearly impossible to put it back in.”

When Stephen Cox was watching The Wizard of Oz on TBS last November, something didn’t sound quite right to him about the Munchkins, who are near and dear to his heart. He wasn’t imagining things. Time Warner-owned TBS used compression technology to speed up the movie. The purpose: stuffing in more TV commercials.

“Their voices were raised a notch,” Cox, the author of several pop-culture books including one about the classic 1939 film, told the Wall Street Journal. “It was astounding to me.”

The Colbert Report hilariously depicts the next generation of product placement: the retroactive ad technology of Mirriad, which can insert products into shows years after they were made. (4:04)

Cablevision to Loyal Customers: Thanks for Paying Higher Prices for Cable Service When You Didn’t Have To

take the moneyIf you are a long time Optimum customer, the CEO, management, and shareholders of Cablevision would like to thank you for driving average monthly cable revenue per customer 4.8% higher from a year ago to $155.34 a month.

A few years ago, Cablevision developed a Stalinist approach to repeat customer promotions and retentions: nyet.

Despite mounting competition from Verizon FiOS, AT&T U-verse, Comcast and Time Warner Cable, Cablevision has held the line on repeatedly discounting its service for customers who complain their rates are too high.

“Our disciplined approach to pricing, promotional eligibility and customer credit policies has not wavered,” Kristin Dolan, chief operating officer, told investors on a morning conference call.

As a result, the average customer staying with Cablevision paid almost five percent more for service than they did a year earlier — more than $155 a month.

optimum“The main drivers of our increased revenue per customer came from a combination of rate increases, but also lower proportion of subscribers on promotion,” said Brian G. Sweeney, chief financial officer. “We had a number of fixed rate increases January 1 of this year related to cable box fees, an increase in our sports and broadcast TV surcharge, as well as the pass-through of PEG fees to certain customers.”

Cablevision elected to stop competing on price in 2013, telling customers they are entitled to one customer retention deal and that is all. As a result, Cablevision has been losing customers even as it gains revenue. Although it managed to pick up 7,000 net new broadband customers during the quarter, Cablevison lost 6,000 customer relationships, 28,000 video customers — double the number from a year ago, and 14,000 voice customers. That represents 11 consecutive quarters of video subscriber losses.

The customers that remain are meeting Cablevision’s earnings expectations as others leave for better deals elsewhere.

Kristin and James Dolan

Kristin and James Dolan

Cablevision admits many of its subscriber losses come from customers willing to shop around for a better deal. They usually find one. Although Verizon has tightened customer retention deals itself in response to Cablevision’s retention policies, Frontier U-verse in Connecticut continues to compete for new business on price, at least initially as part of new customer promotions.

Kristen Dolan argues Cablevision’s quality of service keeps customers loyal and brings many ex-customers back.

“We do a significant amount of [customer] win-backs every year and we really focus on why people are coming back and it’s not just about price,” Dolan said.

But some customers believe it is more about the price than Cablevision might think.

“The only reason I left Cablevision was because they wouldn’t negotiate and match a better deal Verizon offered me,” said Rob Hastings of Syosset, N.Y., who canceled service in 2013. “When Cablevision wouldn’t cut their price I left.”

Many of the customers coming back to Cablevision this year are, in fact, their old customers dealing with a rate reset from Verizon as promotions expire.

“When my Verizon FiOS rate shot up, I went back to Cablevision as a ‘new customer’ on a promotion,” said Hastings. “When that expires, I’ll bounce back to Verizon. Whoever gives me the best price gets my business as I am sure not going to pay extra to stay a loyal customer.”

cablevision service areaTo further combat promotion-bouncing, Cablevision is embracing its broadband product line and marketing new cord-cutting packages to customers that offer reduced-size cable television packages and free over the air antennas for local stations. The cable company also recently announced it would offer cable customers Hulu subscriptions. Jim Dolan, Cablevision CEO, believes broadband is where the money is and customers are willing to pay higher prices to get Internet access even when video package pricing has its limits.

“You’re seeing the video product begin to lose margin and not just among the little operators like us, but even some of the big operators,” said Dolan. “Our philosophy is we think of video as akin to the eggs and the milk in a convenience store. You have to have it, but you don’t make a lot of money on it. Now connectivity is a whole other basket. It’s more like the soda and chips aisle, and if you provide great connectivity, because it provides great value to the consumer, you can differentiate yourself and you can charge more and the margins are good on it.”

Dolan doesn’t think much of his competitor’s slimmed down cable packages either.

“Verizon’s known to embellish [and] use misleading messaging in their marketing to get the phones to ring,” said Dolan. “I think that’s partially how we view these packages. I can tell you that the packages that we’re offering provide a lot more flexibility.”

To further differentiate it from its competitors, Cablevision continues to emphasize its Wi-Fi network of hotspots across metro New York City. The company also recently became the first major U.S. cable operator to launch a mobile phone service that uses its network of Wi-Fi hot spots. Although not willing to divulge customer numbers, Kristin Dolan did say unique weekly visits increased 16% on average to Cablevision’s website, presumably to explore the Freewheel Wi-Fi calling product.

Cablevision’s highlights for the first three months of 2015:

  • Fiber to the Press Release: Cablevision was the first cable company to introduce 1-gigabyte residential service in the tri-state area. The service launched to a single new multi-tenant building in Weehawken, N.J. No further expansion is planned at this time;
  • Discounted Internet for the Cord Cutter on a Budget: Cablevision expanded the availability of $34.90/mo Internet Basics (5/1Mbps) across its entire service area. It includes an over-the-air antenna.
  • Third Party Set-Top Boxes: Cablevision is interested in providing a less expensive, open standard, set-top box platform in the future to customers that don’t want to pay for a large cable box.

Time Warner Cable’s Post-Merger Conference Call: Improved Subscriber Numbers But ‘We’ll Let Others Take the Lead’

road runner

Time Warner Cable held its first post-merger-flop conference call with investors this morning and reported surprisingly good subscriber numbers for the first quarter of 2015.

Despite disappointing investors for not meeting projected profit and revenue numbers for the first three months of the year, Time Warner managed to add 30,000 net video customers for the first time since 2009. High-speed data customers grew by 315,000, compared with 269,000 a year ago, while voice customers increased by 320,000, compared with 107,000 in the prior-year period. The company also reported $26 million in wasted merger-related costs.

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Time Warner’s latest triple play promotion has fewer gotchas in the fine print than usual, but the modem fee is still there so buy your own.

A renewed love for Time Warner Cable was not the reason the cable company added customers. Aggressive pricing with fewer fine print “gotchas” and Time Warner Cable Maxx upgrades helped the company pick up new subscribers. Last October, Time Warner added a $90 triple play offer valid across much of its service area, offering unlimited calling phone, Preferred TV, and 30Mbps broadband with one set-top box for $89.99 a month for one year, an offer Artie Minson, chief financial officer of Time Warner Cable called “clean.”

For the last two years, Time Warner Cable executives decided to de-emphasize promotional pricing on phone service, preferring to draw more attention to its double-play television and broadband offers. This year, that thinking is long gone as the cable company re-emphasizes its triple-play packages and offers current customers the chance to add phone service for as little as $10 a month. The strong growth in new phone customers during the quarter reflects the success of those promotions.

Minson was less impressed with the sales of “skinny bundles” of bare basic cable television, HBO, and broadband service, noting it had little impact on Time Warner’s subscriber growth. The allure of its $14.99 everyday low price, low speed Internet offer has also waned.

“There’s a lot of attraction in the press about skinny packages,” echoed Dinesh C. Jain, chief operating officer of Time Warner Cable. “I think a lot of the times, customers don’t want to get bogged down in a lot of choices to make on those kinds of things. There’s a lot of value in our triple-play packaging right now and it’s a simpler sale.”

Marcus used the conference call to re-emphasize the company has not been distracted by 14 months of merger talks with Comcast and has executed on its pre-merger business plan all along.

twc maxx

Coming in 2017 (If We Live That Long)

Network upgrades under the TWC Maxx program are continuing on schedule.

“New York City, LA and Austin are complete, Dallas, San Antonio and Kansas City are underway and Charlotte, Raleigh and Hawaii on the docket for later in the year,” said Marcus. “We also plan to begin the Maxx process in San Diego this year and finish up in early 2016. It’s still early days, but Maxx certainly appears to be making a difference. Customer feedback has been great and churn among Maxx customers with new DOCSIS 3.0 modems is dramatically lower.”

But it will take another two years to complete the entire Time Warner footprint, of which 40-50% will be upgraded by the end of this year.

“The exact pace at which we continue that process in 2016 and 2017 depends on the experience we have in 2015. We’re feeling better about our ability to roll out all-digital this year than we did last year, which was really the first year of the program,” said Marcus. “And we’ll evaluate, as we go into 2016, how quickly we think we can ramp the next batch of systems.”

In a recurring theme throughout the conference call, executives emphasized Time Warner does not want to pioneer tinkering with the traditional cable package.

For example, Marcus acknowledged Cablevision’s experiment with Wi-Fi calling as a cellular replacement strategy, but said Time Warner Cable will take a wait and see approach.

“I’m inclined to watch and see how that evolves and then we’ll see how best to develop our own strategy on that front,” Marcus said.

Marcus

Marcus

“There’s a lot of talk and a lot of work going on out there from other guys,” said Jain, referring to slimmed down cable packages and unbundling. “And if any of their things work, we’ll just be fast followers on that stuff because I think there are some segments of our customer base where that is going to have appeal.”

Marcus also complained there was far too much attention being paid on Millennials as an excuse to break up the traditional cable experience.

“There tends to be, in my opinion, an obsessive interest in Millennials, maybe at the expense of the broader customer base,” Marcus said. “For the vast majority of our customers, the way we currently deliver the video product is pretty darn attractive. That said, sure, there’s a group of customers who might very well like to access video via other means. So it is definitely the case that over time, I can see a world where more and more customers consume our offering without needing to lease a set-top box from us. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to abandon the largest portion of our customers who actually do like the current model.”

On other subjects, the implementation of Net Neutrality under Title II regulations will have no impact on Time Warner’s future plans or investments, according to Marcus.

“We’ve said in the past that our normal business practices comply entirely with the notion of the open Internet, no blocking, no discrimination, no throttling, and transparency are fundamental parts of the way we do business. So to the extent that that’s the full scope of what’s getting incremented under Title II, I think you won’t see a change in the way we do business.”

But he warned if the FCC intends to more broadly regulate Internet access, that could have an impact on pricing and future investment.

Marcus also re-emphasized his intention not to change the way Time Warner sells broadband. That means no compulsory usage caps or usage-based pricing.

“We’re very focused on delivering compelling products to customers at a price that delivers real value,” said Marcus. “We can’t think in terms of taking gross margin dollars that are lost because we lose a video customer and somehow embedding those into high-speed data [with usage pricing] and not seeing an impact on high-speed data.”

If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em: Cablevision to Sell Hulu+ to Cable Subscribers

Phillip Dampier April 29, 2015 Cablevision, Competition, Consumer News, Online Video 1 Comment

hulu-plusCablevision has conceded online video is now increasingly challenging its cable television package, so instead of trying to put a lid on “over the top” video, the Long Island, N.Y.-based cable company is embracing it with a deal to offer the streaming service Hulu to its customers.

“There is a new generation of consumers who access video through the Internet, and whatever their preference, Cablevision will facilitate a great content experience,” said Kristin Dolan, chief operating officer of Cablevision, in a statement.

cablevisionThe deal covers the service’s entire catalog of on-demand television shows and movies and will be available to Cablevision broadband customers online and possibly through set-top boxes for traditional cable television customers.

The arrangement is unlikely to prove compelling to current broadband customers who can enroll in Hulu free of charge and Hulu + for $7.99/mo, without Cablevision’s help. But if the cable operator bundles the service into existing packages at no extra charge or offers the advertiser-supported pay service at a discount, it may provide a useful option for customers considering cutting Cablevision’s cord.

Hulu has not proved as popular with online video fans as Netflix, perhaps because it forces viewers to sit through a very heavy ad load, even with its premium service. Even with the announcement this week Hulu acquired the streaming video rights to all 180 episodes of Seinfeld, a show that aired its last original episode in 1998, Hulu is unlikely enough to seal a deal with subscribers.

Cablevision may also be interested in Hulu to bolster its new broadband-only “cord-cutting” packages (shown below), which Cablevision hopes will help it save a customer’s business if they are ready to drop cable television. Hulu is often a “must-have” by cord-cutters who enjoy first-run network shows.

CEO Jim Dolan even admitted there may come a day when Cablevision exits the cable TV business completely and relies entirely on selling broadband service.

cord cutter cablevision 1

cord cutter cablevision 2

That Was Fast: ESPN Sues Verizon Over Slimmed Down FiOS TV Packages

ESPN Red Logo largeESPN today filed a lawsuit against Verizon Communications, claiming FiOS TV’s new slimmed-down television packages violate ESPN’s contract provisions that forbid placing the network in an optional add-on “sports tier.”

Verizon’s new packages represent its efforts to control the cost of cable television. Custom TV offers a base package of networks for $55 with optional add-on channel bouquets covering genres like sports, lifestyle and family programming.

ESPN’s lawsuit, filed in New York Supreme Court, claims Verizon has no right to offer its networks as part of a theme-based package of optional channels.

A Verizon spokesperson shot back, “It looks like they are suing consumers to force them into a one-size-fits-all bundle.”

“Consumers have spoken loud and clear that they want choice, and the industry should be focused on giving consumers what they want,” Verizon said in a statement. ” We are well within our rights under our agreements to offer our customers these choices.”

New Revelations About Comcast’s Role in Killing Hulu Sale Raise Doubts Regulators Can Trust Company

sun valleyDespite a firm commitment with the Justice Department not to be involved in the day-to-day management of Hulu as a condition of approving Comcast’s merger with NBC/Universal, new revelations suggest Comcast not only promoted the online video service to its partners as a nationwide streaming platform for the cable industry, it also convinced them not to sell the service to a Comcast competitor.

Two years ago, at the 2013 Allen & Co., conference held in the resort community of Sun Valley, Idaho, executives from Walt Disney/ABC, 21st Century Fox, and Comcast privately met to discuss the future of Hulu, the online video service. Hulu’s chief executive, Jason Kilar, had already made it clear he was preparing to leave the venture, possibly foreseeing a likely sale because of ongoing differences between two of Hulu’s three owners over the future direction of the service.

Rupert Murdoch’s FOX wanted Hulu to emphasize Hulu+, its subscription option. Disney/ABC believed Hulu worked best as a free, ad-supported service. Comcast was supposed to stay out of it, required by the Justice Department to be a perpetual silent partner after the cable company inherited a 32% stake in Hulu through its merger with NBC/Universal in 2011.

But a Wall Street Journal report late Tuesday suggested Comcast had far more involvement in critical Hulu business decisions than the Justice Department might have tolerated had it known. Earlier reports over the weekend suggested regulators were focusing on Comcast’s involvement in Hulu, concerned Comcast may have ignored a consent decree and interfered with the sale of Hulu to protect itself from increased competition.

At the time Comcast acquired NBC/Universal, the Justice Department was concerned the cable company would inherit NBC’s one-third interest in Hulu, a potential online video competitor that could eventually fuel cord-cutting. Comcast agreed to “relinquish any veto right or other right to influence, control, or participate in the governance or management of Hulu.” It also agreed to license Comcast/NBC-owned content to Comcast’s competitors on fair terms.

Despite Comcast’s commitment, people familiar with the matter told the Journal Comcast “felt hamstrung” by the conditions it agreed to in the consent decree. Although Comcast spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice insisted “Comcast has no role in making, evaluating or reconsidering any management decisions at Hulu,” Comcast executives in attendance at the Sun Valley meetup suggested Hulu was an important part of the cable industry’s future. The “silent partner” allegedly told Hulu’s fellow owners if they didn’t sell the venture, Comcast would make Hulu the nationwide streaming video platform for the industry’s “TV Everywhere” project, turning it into a potential major rival of Netflix.

Comcast acquired a 32% ownership interest in Hulu after buying NBC/Universal.

Comcast acquired a 32% ownership interest in Hulu after buying NBC/Universal.

According to sources who had knowledge of the matter, Comcast’s proposal, which would enlarge Hulu significantly almost overnight, influenced Disney and Fox to cancel the sale by the end of the week-long conference. At that point, two of the biggest bidders to acquire Hulu were Comcast rivals DirecTV and AT&T, both seeking to develop online video platforms that could compete with Comcast.

As news spread the Hulu sale was off, a piece in GigaOm made it clear Comcast came away the biggest winner, keeping a potential competing online cable TV video platform at bay:

Buying Hulu would have been more than just a TV Everywhere play for AT&T and DirecTV. It could have been the first step towards an online-based pay-TV subscription, with a solid consumer base, name recognition and proven technology.

Now none of this is going to happen — and Comcast couldn’t be happier about that.

Ultimately, Comcast wasn’t much better fulfilling promises to its Hulu partners than it has managed for its customers. Despite promising to market Hulu to millions of Comcast cable subscribers and integrating the service into Comcast’s own systems, discussions surrounding a formal agreement between the two went nowhere, bogged down by a deal-killing Comcast demand that any viewer accessing Hulu be redirected through Comcast’s own video player and platform, which conveniently provided the cable company with Hulu customer data and gave free exposure to Comcast’s brand. That would make pitching Hulu as an alternative to Comcast next to impossible.

After the threat of a sale was a distant memory, Comcast seemed to lose interest in Hulu, refocusing on its expensive X1 set-top box and XFINITY-branded streaming apps.

To this day, Comcast’s X1 still does not offer subscribers a Hulu app.

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