I recently heard another consultant say that traditional cable TV as we know it will still be a very strong product a decade from now and that it’s far too soon for small cable providers to worry about the future of cable TV. That got me to thinking about everything that is going on in the industry and I come to a very different conclusion. I think TV a decade from now is going to be very different than today. There are so many major changes changes happening today, and while it’s hard to see through it all, I can’t imagine TV still be anything like what we have today a decade from now.
Skinny Bundles. While talking about cord cutting is interesting, last year new cord cutters were at most something like 2% of all cable viewers – that is not yet a revolution. The really big change in the industry is going to come from skinny bundles. These are the small packages that cable TV providers are assembling as an alternative to the 200-channel bundles. The cable companies are assembling packages of the most popular channels and are pricing them at $30 and $40.
I think skinny bundles are going to be wildly successful. Assuming that the skinny bundles contain a lot of what people want to watch, they will be a better option for most people than going to a pure OTT product like Sling TV. It’s easy to forget that people pay a huge penalty from breaking the cable company bundles and becoming a cord cutter can cost a family a $10 to $20 increase in their broadband price.
Skinny bundles are going to be significant because they mean that there are going to be a whole lot less viewers paying for the less-popular cable channels like the Tennis Channel or Discovery Health. I don’t think we should underestimate how much Wall Street is going to punish programmers if they start losing customers and revenues. We saw a little bit of this recently when it was reported that ESPN had lost 7 million viewers and Disney stock took a beating. I predict that as skinny bundles take off that we are going to see a number of lesser-viewed networks disappear.
Mega-Bundles. I think the OTT industry is going to have to consolidate in some way to be long-term successful. Already today it can cost more to buy the individual OTT offerings you want rather than just stick to a traditional cable package. In the long run, if each OTT package stands alone then many of them will fail from lack of viewers.
But I already see talk about the creation of the OTT bundle – a service that brings various OTT offerings together under one umbrella package. There are an incredible number of companies now making or planning to make original content. As somebody who only watches OTT content, it is already confusing and hard to find what I want to watch. So I expect that there will be bundlers that will bring original content from many sources together under one search engine – sort of like a TIVO for OTT content. I don’t really care if content is created by Netflix, Apple, YouTube or somebody else. If I could buy a service that would bridge the current OTT content into one package I’d buy it today.
Drop in Live Viewing. The continuing trend people watching less live television is going to feed into the above two trends. People are getting retrained to be less loyal to networks and are instead become fans of specific series or types of programming. Binge watching (or even just delayed watching) is becoming more the norm and there will be less and less programming that people insist on watching live.
The Trend. All of these trends together means that people are going to become less loyal to a given network and more loyal to specific content. And that is the change that will transform the industry. The programmers today have all of the power because they can force the cable providers to buy all of their networks. But if people elect options that avoid much of that content then the driving power in the industry will change from the programmers to the viewers.
Programmers are not going to able to sell things that people won’t pay to watch. The amount of new original content available today already provides an amazing alternative to traditional programming. And when you just look at the original content planned for the next year or two you can see that quality content might become the new driver in the industry.
The cable companies are not going to resist these changes, which might be a shock to the programmers. There is a decent chance that cable companies can make as much margin from skinny bundles as they make today from the huge bundles. And no cable company is going to be sorry to see the power of the big programmers get diluted by the change in people’s viewing preferences.