Is HBO Planning a Direct Shot on Netflix in the Direct-To-Consumer Video Market?

In most things related to the online video market, Netflix gets most of the attention. It makes sense, they have 36 million U.S. subscribers, got into a high-profile spat with Verizon and Comcast, and are basically seen as the leader in the online video content space. The question has always been, when will they have a more serious competitor?

Well, HBO may be that competitor. That is, HBO could transition to a direct-to-consumer option, that, like Netflix, can be accessed without subscribing to a pay-TV service such as cable or satellite.

The speculation about such a move started with some statements made by Jeff Bewkes, the Chairman and Chief Executive of Time Warner, HBO’s parent company. He was talking about HBO Go, which is available only to those with a pay-TV subscription, and he stated that the over-the-top market was looking more and more attractive. Indeed, HBO already launched in 2012 a direct-to-consumer product (called HBO Nordic) in Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland.

Obviously, the U.S. market is much different, but success with HBO Nordic may spur HBO into the direct-to-consumer market in the United States. On one hand, as Jeff Bewkes noted in 2013, there are about 70 million people in the United States that subscribe to a pay-TV service but don’t also subscribe to HBO. There are only about five to 10 million “cord cutters.” So, while HBO may want to focus on the 70 million versus the 10 million, going direct-to-consumer and increasing the available library of over-the-top content may get a number of those 70 million to look more closely at HBO Go. So, stay tuned.



Report: Consumers Willing to Pay for A La Carte Video Service

Television consumers “are looking for one simple, convenient experience that combines their TV and video content and services,” according to a recent report from Ericsson. A slide summary of the report concludes that the “quest has begun to become THE easy-to-use, à la carte TV solution” that aggregates consumers television and video needs. The full report is also available.

The opportunity to view the content of their choice (à la carte) was among the top features that consumers expressed a willingness to pay for, based on a survey conducted for the study. Other benefits consumers say are worth their money include programming that is free of advertisements; HD quality; on-demand or timeshifing capabilities; and ease of use.

In contrast, consumers were least willing to pay for the use of personalized apps and widgets in conjunction with content viewing; video telephony; apps on standard TVs; viewing content from different camera angles; and interactive television. Read more

Analyst: Breaking the Cable Bundle Could Mean Higher Prices for Consumers

The possibility of sports programming leaving the cable bundle for a designated sports tier could mean big changes for both fans and the TV industry. Needham analyst Laura Martin stated in a report last week that entertainment networks would suffer if cable operators and satellite TV providers unbundle traditional subscription packages and create sports tiers.

Needham reports that some distributors are paying about half of their programming expenses on sports networks. ESPN for example costs distributors $6 per month. The increasing costs for sports programming are being driven by the major deals networks make with leagues like the NFL and MLB.

“If sports leave the bundle, we estimate that many of the 20 million households that are heavy sports viewers today would disconnect the remaining entertainment bundle, thereby further pressuring ecosystem profits,” Martin said in her “Future of TV” report. Read more

Redbox Instant by Verizon Goes Live

Redbox Instant by Verizon, the online video and kiosk DVD rental partnership announced by the two companies last year, appears to have finally gotten off the ground after a series of delays. Long anticipated as a competitor to Netflix, the venture allows customers to stream videos over landline or 4G broadband connections, in addition to renting 4 DVDs or games a month at Redbox kiosks. Subscriptions cost $8.00 per month. Blu-Ray rentals at kiosks are available for an extra dollar per month.

In what could be a key differentiator, Redbox Instant allows non-subscribers to rent or buy titles on an a la carte basis, although only selected titles can be viewed in this manner. Customers renting a title online can delay starting it for up to 30 days. Once started, the title can be viewed multiple times over the next 48 hours. Customers that purchase a title can view it at any time.

Streaming works on many devices like computers, most tablets and smartphones, some Samsung TVs and Blu-Ray players, and the Xbox360 gaming console. However, it does not yet appear to work with other consoles or devices such as Roku or Boxee. Also, the options for viewing titles are subject to considerable variations. Some content can only be rented at kiosks, some is not available in high definition, and some can be rented but not purchased. Even so, the joint venture claims to be working towards adding more titles, options and devices as quickly as possible. While the list of available titles is not as expansive as that offered by Netflix, the kiosk, a la carte, and purchase options may be very attractive to many consumers.

Verizon Mobile Video Play

In a March 30 Wall Street Journal interview, Lowell McAdam, chairman and CEO of Verizon Communications, revealed the company’s intent to roll out a new mobile video service by year end. The plan is predicated on the FCC’s approval of the company’s spectrum purchase and partnership agreement with Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks and Cox Communications.

The mobile video service would be made available to existing mobile and cable customers and would include an a la carte content component.

Verizon and the cable companies have provided testimony at the FCC indicating that the partnership will not be anticompetitive. Analysts have compared the deal to the failed AT&T acquisition of T-Mobile, which could not acquire regulatory approval from either the FCC or the Department of Justice.

The a la carte programming plan is a wild card in this transaction. While it could add weight to the plan advanced by Verizon and the cable companies, it must also get buy-in from content owners. Without the content owners, the plan appears speculative.