This may come as a surprise to the many programming executives who insist that cable and satellite customers like pay TV’s pricing bundles that require them to pay for channels that they don’t watch. Research and consulting firm PwC heard a different message in June when it surveyed 1,008 people about their video consumption preferences. About 44% favor a la carte pricing, the company says in its new U.S. Video Content Consumption report, while 29% want a package that’s “more customized to my individual interest.” Another 8% said that they’d just like small collection of essential services, with 6% saying that they want to access individual shows instead of full channels. Just 14% said they’d prefer the “full package” that gives them the most options. Those who want something different say that it would provide “more control over the content that appears on their screens and allows their viewing time to be more enjoyable and well-spent,” according to PwC which followed its surveys by conducting focus groups. Some 65% of the people who want a change say that they’d be willing to access 10 or more channels, while 26% put the number between six and nine, with 9% between two and five. How much would they pay? About 16% would go to 99 cents a channel, 24% would go to $1.99, 22% would go to $2.99, and the remaining 37% would go higher. In other findings: Some 35% said that the growing availability of Internet services such as Netflix has had little or no impact on the value they put on pay TV while another 13% still prefer traditional cable and satellite. But 31% said the new services reduce the perceived value of pay TV, while 14% said they prefer the Internet. In the latter group, 5% said they’re considering cutting the cord for pay TV. Traditional services that want to maintain their value “must continue to offer exclusive programming that is either not available online or is only available in a less timely fashion,” PwC says.
It just might if it frightens them enough to accelerate their efforts to make people pay for broadband based on how much they use — the same way they pay for electricity or water. ”This isn’t just a side show,” independent analyst Craig Moffett says. “This is THE central issue defining the value of the cable industry going forward.” And the pricing model could rock streaming companies including Netflix or, perhaps, Sony. It would be “a material risk” to Netflix’s prospects if a Sony-Viacom agreement leads to usage-based pricing, Bernstein Research’s Carlos Kirjner says.
The FCC might not want to take on this issue — but that hasn’t stopped the Arizona senator, and former GOP presidential candidate, from pressing it today. “The time has come for television video consumers to have the option to either purchase individual channels or the tiers of channels currently offered by cable and satellite companies,” John McCain says in a letter to Acting FCC Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn. “Today, this option does not exist and consumers are forced to buy channels they do not want,” he wrote. “This is wrong, and action should be taken.” Noting that consumers “want options that the current television market is not providing”, McCain asked Clyburn “to review this issue and take steps to shift this balance toward consumers, by providing consumers with greater choice when purchasing television video”. He rejects cable programmers’ claim that the pay TV bundle is a good deal for subscribers.
Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt, cable’s Jeremiah when it comes to the industry’s rising prices, appeared more worried than ever today — and still out of step with his colleagues — when he discussed the issue with Wall Street analysts at the annual Cable Show taking place this week in DC. “People are starting to pay attention to the fact that the multichannel TV package, the big package which is in 90% of the homes, is starting to get too expensive for lower-income people,” he said. Broadcast networks, sports channels and others who have stepped up their demands for higher rates shouldn’t become cavalier just because “nothing is going to happen” with Sen. John McCain’s bill to promote a la carte pricing. (Britt added, “And he doesn’t think so either, by the way.”) The bill is “just the beginning of it. It would behoove the whole industry including the content companies who are all crowing about their pricing power to pay attention because it will come to some end that we may not like if we all keep behaving the way we are.” It was hard to find others at the industry love fest who’d publicly agree.
That’s the critically important question that’s being debated across the industry and — finally! — head-on by two of the Street’s savviest analysts: Bernstein Research’s Todd Juenger and Craig Moffett. Juenger kicked things off in a note last week, and Moffett delivered his response today. The core issue is whether millions of consumers will cut the pay TV cord rather than accept ongoing price hikes driven by network owners including Time Warner, Viacom, News Corp, Disney, NBCUniversal, CBS, and Discovery. For competitive reasons, they want to pack more original shows and high-priced sports on to their schedules — and pass the rising costs along to cable and satellite providers. But the pay TV distributors say that they’d need to pass their higher costs on to consumers, and too many are so cash-strapped that they’ll simply cut the cord and watch shows from over-the-air broadcasts or low-priced Internet services such as Netflix. If things continue, the argument goes, then Big Media will have to abandon the lucrative and ubiquitous basic cable bundle that requires customers to pay for lots of channels that they never watch. If that happens, and channels are offered a la carte, no more than 10 would be profitable enough to survive, Needham & Co analyst Laura Martin estimates.
Here’s a synopsis of the arguments Junger makes in defense of programmers — and Moffett’s explanation why he thinks they’re headed off a cliff:
The conclusions are part of an intriguing study out this morning from Lazard Capital Markets analyst Barton Crocket. Like many Wall Street analysts, he’s eager to know which programmers have the most to gain, and lose, if the current pay TV ecosystem — which requires consumers to pay for channels that they don’t watch — collapses. And Disney is most at risk, Crockett figures based on the results an online survey of 2,240 consumers in May. The study sought to determine how loyal consumers are to different channels. As you might expect, the Big Four broadcasters, ESPN, Discovery Channel, History, USA Network, and TNT have the most dedicated followings. (At the bottom of the list: OWN, Fox Soccer Channel, CNBC, Oxygen, and CMT.) The problem for Disney is that its channels aren’t popular enough to continue to justify the nearly $8.4B a year they currently generate from program fees — about 26% of pay TV’s total programming outlays. Crockett figures Disney’s take could drop 65.2% to $2.9B a year. Other potential losers include Time Warner (not including HBO) which could see yearly
I asked Andrew Jay Schwartzman, the SVP and Policy Director of the Media Access Project in Washington DC (http://www.mediaaccess.org) to write up his thoughts on the proposed merger:
Why Hollywood Should Care About the Comcast/NBCU Deal
By Andrew Jay Schwartzman
Comcast’s proposed acquisition of