Which Video Distribution Model Will Dominate?

By Paul Maxwell Report Archives
Cover image for  article: Which Video Distribution Model Will Dominate?

As the bundle unbundles, big bets have been placed on differing ways to distribute content. And though content is, in Sumner Redstone's defining definition, "king," it isn't worth much if it can't be accessed.

AT&T's chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson says he's put together the future: Robust video offerings from the newly-acquired DirecTV along with a little U-Verse plus powerful cellular access. Stephenson's vision (once a pipe dream of DISH's Charles Ergen who continues to sit atop a massive trove of spectrum) is now a reality via two nationally-distributed services (satellite downloading with soon-to-be robust broadband wireless) plus not-that-big but not-that-small broadband to the curb (and some homes and businesses). Or, put another way, access to every home in America.  (Quite a leapfrog the Federal Confusion Commission and Department of Justice allowed after blocking Comcast/Time Warner Cable!)  AT&T is already moving aggressively with repurposed OTT offerings of NFLSundayTicket TV (three levels: $24.99/month for 4 months for qualified students; $49.99/month for 4 months and multiple device use; $89.99/month for 4 months with more content including Fantasy Zone).  Stephenson also said he wants to make Comcast regret not having a cellular arm.  (Just FYI, Comcast once did and that small cellular company had all the towers on the way from Denver to Vail -- a long time ago.)

Meanwhile, the cable ISP with the largest footprint continues to accelerate its build-out of Wi-Fi -- or cellular on the cheap.  While it isn't there yet, should Charter absorb its targets, then along with Cablevision and other already cooperating operators a truly national set of access points should allow a sort of integrated offering to be developed.  Comcast alone has over 10 million hot spots and if, acting like a tech company, it can get away without compensating all those household and businesses that house the routers, it stands to win big in convenience (something new to cable, too, as it learns to get down to working with individuals and not just an overall account holder).

Retrans Redux: In an unusual move for this FCC, the Commission adhered to the command in the STELAR law to launch the Notice of a Proposed Rulemaking to review the state of retransmission consent.  (You know, that move by Congress to pick a business winner.)  The issue this time, after much sturm und drang, is what constitutes good faith negotiating.  Chairman Tom Wheeler blogged that eliminating exclusivity rules which prevent an MVPD from importing a network station to replace one that couldn't reach a deal would lift the FCC's "thumb on the scales."  Also a bit typical of this FCC, that wouldn't necessarily prevent a network and affiliates from keeping just such agreements; it would just move enforcement from the FCC to the courts.  So, a bit of an empty bone to MVPDs?  After all, SNL Kagan predicts that retrans fees will hit "only" $9.8 billion by 2020.  That's probably why Apple is delaying its own OTT effort until next year.  Not to mention that another retrans dispute is under way in San Diego as KFMB CBS8 goes dark on DirecTV.  This is a broken mess that only leaves the consumer holding the bad hand.

And, just what does it mean when Wheeler says the Commission shall "talk about a whole set of issues for what constitutes 'good faith'"?  Still, it is a first hopeful step toward rational retransmission rules.

Speaking of good faith in negotiations, the MVPD reclassification soap opera continues as Al Jazeera America wants that sort of thing to help kill most favored nation clauses while YipTV doesn't want the hassles of that moniker. 

Random Notes:

My new book “The Revolutionary Evolution of the Media” continues! Go here to read the latest chapter!

I'm told it is not true that Cablevision's James Dolan will arm-wrestle Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam for bragging rights; instead, JD & the Straight Shot will serenade him ad nauseum.  Gotta love the vibes in New York!  It isn't every day that ad battles hit the courts.

Sub Loss update: All of the Q2 reports are now in and SNL Kagan reports that MVPDs lost 625,000 or so subs … worst quarter ever.

Best summer programming moves?  HBO backing "Sesame Street."  Turner Broadcasting will buy iStreamPlanet.  EchoStar has a faster way to channel surf.

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