Last week, CBS and HBO announced their intention to offer programming directly to paid subscribers over the internet. At first blush, this may seem like the beginning of the end of the cable ecosystem, but the impact of these moves may be limited.
Consumers and even Congress have been clamoring for years to force MSOs (cable, satellite and telco providers) to permit subscribers to pick and choose their channels a la carte. After all, most subscribers watch only a fraction of the hundreds of channels in a typical bundle. The CBS and HBO offerings bypass the MSOs entirely. Does this mean that there will be a wholesale rush by other networks to follow suit? Maybe not.
Networks have a complex set of relationships, contractual and otherwise, with their program providers and the MSOs themselves. For this reason, not all HBO and CBS programs (e.g., NFL) will be available over-the-top. Companies like Viacom with a large slate of cable channels currently benefit from bundling. They may be wary to undercut their smaller channels by offering the more popular ones a la carte. Pricing is an issue too. At $6.99-$15.00/month for each channel, consumers may find they aren’t saving all that much over their current cable bills once they’ve subscribed to all their favorites. Add to that the sheer inconvenience of navigating from app to app, as against the relative simplicity of scrolling through a cable program guide.
It’s undeniable that critical mass is building for the transformation of the media landscape. So far, though, the changes are incremental and are likely to continue to be so for the short to medium term.