We've got more program buying choices than ever before … and there are more on the way. Which means we've got more confusion than ever before for programmers, operators, vendors and consumers -- and it is growing at exponential rates. Charter's Tom Rutledge, who has grudgingly accepted the reality of increasing competition, claims the classic cable bundle options will survive. He's probably right. But let's take a quick look at what options are available right now in the U.S.A. along with a few that will launch before the middle of the year.
Right now we've got:
Free, over-the-air broadcast television … assuming you live where you can get reception, never mind good reception. For those who don't, there's increasingly expensive broadcast TV retransmitted over satellite, cable, fiber and telco lines.
Also basic cable; must carry and premium local channel packages; cable bundles; premium cable bundles; "very" premium packages from Layer 3; sports packages; basic satellite packages with extra cost "free TV"; telco basic packages that mimic cable; double plays and triple plays and quad plays packaging video with voice, wireless and Internet in various combinations; dozens of streaming OTT services like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu; SVOD cable packages with DVR functions; SVOD OTT packages with and without DVR functions; DVDs; skinny basic OTT bundles with add-on packages a la Sling; mid-level (normal?) OTT bundles with add-on packages a la DirecTV Now; premium individual channels OTT a la HBO Now, HBO Go et al; individual channels via OTT streaming or SVOD a la CBS Access, and more.
Most interesting to me is AT&T, via DirecTV Now, attempting to make its programming packages available to everyone in America either through the Internet or by satellite. They're the first company to truly make a core programming product available via the three main distribution methods to the final mile: satellite, fiber (or hybrid fiber/coax) and wireless (as soon as 5G moves from tests to wide implementation).
So, what's next this year?
Comcast will get close to copying AT&T. Coming mid-year will be its first OTT product platform. Meanwhile, Comcast is licensing variations of its home security, X-1 and other developments to other classic cable operating companies … maybe with a view of acquiring some or all?
Verizon, if it can (or can't) figure out what to do about content, takes a look at DISH.
Look for Charter, once it has fully integrated its recent acquisitions, to adopt some of what Comcast's recent plays have been.
And, there's always the chance of more M&A activity with more consolidation in infrastructure, in programming and in technical supply chains.
In the far distant past of the election season, I liked the FCC joke about Howard Stern replacing Tom Wheeler. It never occurred to me that a President-elect would talk to Rupert Murdoch about whom to pick for the Chairmanship. As New York Magazine reported, Trump told guests at Mar-a-Lago over the holidays, "I really like Rupert Murdoch! Roger Ailes was a friend of mine, but Fox's coverage is so much better since he left." Since Trump and Murdoch talk three or more times a week and Trump has asked for advice on FCC Chairman and commissioners, we should probably look for some interesting conditions involving AT&T's deal with Time Warner.
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