How Cable and Satellite TV Providers Stay Relevant

I am contemplating switching cable TV providers, and I was thinking about how most of the people I know still have basic cable type packages; while others have done what is called “cord cutting” by eliminating cable.

Those people who cancelled their cable subscriptions stream content over the internet through one of the ever-growing number of streaming device options or Smart TV platforms. They utilize amplified antennas to get broadcast channels locally to supplement their program options.

I was at the gym running on the elliptical machine last week when a commercial came on while I had ESPN on during my workout. It was for the NHL Center Ice package which provides access to over 40 out of market games per week and works out to about $150 paid out over four installments for the season.

The advertisement put an emphasis on the ability to stream games from tablets or other devices as well, since that has become a critical value add for certain consumer demographics when it comes to media products such as this NHL package.

However, the flip side of that situation popped an idea into my head: who has time to watch 40 out of market hockey games a week? I would venture to guess that not too many people could do so, while affording the cost of the package and working. This is where cable remains relevant, and in the paragraphs to follow I will qualify that statement.

The NHL Center Ice or Game Center app does not allow full access to game highlights or condensed game packages without a subscription to the package or without a link to your cable subscription. Those who do not want to pay for the package or have cut their cable service completely lose out on hockey coverage or access to hockey content. This same example can be used for other programming or content available through cable and protected by those cable or satellite providers from those who have decided to “cord cut”.

The NHL Network channel is available only through cable or with a subscription purchased and offers the best alternative for those with a busy lifestyle because you can get all the highlights just by flipping to that channel on your cable box. It provides the ability for more casual viewing of the games as well.

The cable companies also stay relevant because having a cable subscription active allows for the best access to content from live programming that would air on a delay on a streaming device or app, to the ability to “live stream” certain content.

The implications of the Disney – Fox mega media merger as well as the proposed merger of AT&T with Time Warner can and will have an impact on the access to content of all types. The access to content and “protection” and restriction to content is going to shape the media in the next 5 years.
The handwriting is already on the wall, so to speak, with Disney spending truckloads of money to design their own streaming app that they will charge a monthly membership fee to allow access to their content. The recent proposed merger with Fox will expand the amount of content that they can potentially add to this application and restrict from distribution to other outlets.

The individual Time Warner group channels such as CNN, TBS, and TNT have all developed their own streaming content apps to appeal to a wider audience of those who have cut the cord.

The membership payment type apps for streaming are expanding as well with HBO, Showtime, CBS All Access, and the Hallmark Channel app called Hallmark Now ; these apps are all charging fees for access to their exclusive content.

The future of streaming television is going to consist of paying for the content from a multitude of different subscription based app content providers. The cable subscription will offer a potential “value add” because it will allow for access to the streaming content while potentially circumventing some of those subscription fees.

The future of cable and satellite television is unclear at this point as well. The “al a carte” approach that has been a concept that has been enticing to certain viewers is gaining a resurgence. This concept, where each individual household would pay only for the channels they would watch consistently, is largely cost prohibitive within the current cable/satellite TV business model.

The carriage fees (which is the amount the networks charge the cable companies to carry the channel) on some of these channels are a major barrier to this proposed solution. A good example is if your family would watch CNN, ESPN, and Disney channel to provide a mix of news, sports, and family programs. In the current model, the carriage fee is divided among all the subscribers for a respective cable provider whether it is Comcast or Verizon Fios.

The “al a carte” model would create a formula with a lot less subscribers so the fees would go up and your cable bill will follow suit. I have seen sample models where the earlier example provided would break down like this: CNN would cost $35 per month, ESPN would cost between $60 and $65 per month, and Disney would cost between $25 to $35 per month. That means for three channels plus your free network channels, your cable bill would be upwards of $125 to $130.

The carriage fees would have to change or the providers would have to offer more packages to bundle down costs.

In the end, as we approach the New Year, the way we watch TV will continue to evolve. The growing consensus from the consumer perspective is to cut the cord with cable. However, the cable companies and the media companies are largely becoming the same entities with all of the mergers happening in the media landscape.

This translates into a combination of a cable subscription (at least one cable box in your home) and streaming devices or Smart TVs that can stream content. This combination will provide access to the most wide- ranging amount of programming and provide a good value to the consumer.

Call Waiting: Verizon Back Peddles On Merger Rumors

The news out of Verizon on Thursday is that the comments made by their CEO, Lowell McAdam, were taken out of context regarding a potential merger involving the telecommunications giant.

The CFO of Verizon, Matthew Ellis, attempted on Thursday to clarify earlier remarks made by Mr. McAdam to the media. Those comments alluded to a potential merger of Verizon with Disney, Comcast, or CBS.

However, Mr. Ellis today offered a different explanation in stating that Mr. McAdam was answering a question about whether or not he would “take a call” from Disney, Comcast, or CBS. The comments are now being walked back by Verizon, today they clarified that they would be open to strategic partnerships with those entities and not an actual merger.

This clarifying statement from Verizon comes after several financial news sources ran with a story that Verizon was exploring a merger, and the stock prices of those three entities involved: Disney, Comcast, and CBS all saw increased trading activity.

It is no secret that Verizon is looking to grow certain aspects of their business, the acquisition recently of Yahoo is proof of that strategy. The senior management at Verizon have steered away from obtaining other large media companies, which is unlike their other competitors in this space. The deal between AT&T and DirecTV jumps to mind as the type of avenue to growth that Verizon has repeatedly avoided.

The earnings call with Mr. Ellis today described what Verizon calls “organic growth” of the company. The exact definition of that strategy is not completely defined, but like any other communications provider and internet service provider, Verizon is consistently looking for content. The old “content is king” mantra is still paramount in this industry space.

In an increasingly visual world, the demand for video content is at the core of what Verizon needs to fill within their own content pipeline. It is in this vein that a strategic partnership or some sort of partnership agreement with Disney, Comcast, or CBS would make sense for Verizon. Those entities have their own exclusive content or partnerships to provide content for other entities such as Major League Baseball, the National Football League, and the National Hockey League.

The demand for sports content is always robust and the demand for other types of entertainment in digital platforms is a demand curve that Verizon is going to be relentless in trying to meet over the next several months. The earnings call also came on Thursday amidst reports that the Verizon FIOS television service has lost over thirteen thousand subscribers in a short amount of time.

The streaming media services and the growth of other platforms to watch content is causing many Americans to “cut the cord” on cable, telco, and satellite TV services. The “on demand” culture and the binge watching patterns of the new ways that consumers expect has caused the drop off in the FIOS subscriptions.

This could create conditions where FIOS, AT&T/DirecTV, and Comcast are forced to reinvent themselves and provide more value to the consumer for the service. The advent of the DirecTV service that allows the viewer to watch at home or on a tablet or smart phone is a step into the future of the television trends to follow.

The question of whether or not Verizon is exploring a merger is a complicated one. It would make some degree of sense on one hand given the complexities facing the industry and the changing dynamics of digital content consumption.

Verizon is also prepared to face rather significant anti-trust regulatory reviews especially if they were to merge with Comcast, which would absolutely create a monopoly in the industry. That merger would have far-reaching implications for both private homes and small businesses as the internet is needed for doing really everything today from shopping, to watching movies, and to work related functions.

It remains to be seen whether Mr. McAdam was taken out of context, or whether there is more than meets the eye with this story. The ambitions of Verizon will come into focus in the near future. The company should, at the very least, consider some kind of partnership with another media company to fill the video content gaps that exist currently.

Verizon also knows that mergers or acquisitions are a complicated process and that ties up time and resources from being able to grow the company in other ways. In the end, only time will tell which direction they choose to grow their business in an increasingly competitive, evolving, and cost driven environment.