Close observers of this scene are not surprised by this development. Competition to the pay TV programming continues, but except for PlayStation Vue and Sling TV it is not direct competition. It is indirect, disruptive competition from Netflix, YouTube, and Hulu.
The strong basic cable programmers probably see these three things:
- The growth is gone from pay TV subscriptions.
- Supporting the strongest over-the-top video competitors to the pay TV ecosystem (like Netflix) that yield far less value to the programmers than the pay TV incumbents probably isn't a wise move. That's what Time Warner thinks. If there is a way to sell these rights to one of the pay TV incumbents, that would probably be best and keep value in that ecosystem.
- If there isn't an appetite among the pay TV incumbents for those rights, and the programmer needs the money from an over-the-top video distributor, it is better to take money from the smaller over-the-top video competitors like Amazon, as HBO did, rather than build up the leader.
What about HBO Now and CBS All Access? HBO, Showtime, and Starz are not in the basic bundle, they are available a la carte. CBS is already available for free to anyone with an antenna. They are never sold a la carte or for free and thus don't have the same place in the cable bundle as ESPN, CNN, or Lifetime.