15 September 2016

The Essential Truth of Licensing Cable TV Networks

Steve Burke, CEO of NBCUniversal, made a simple statement yesterday that underlies the future of multichannel competition.
“Our job at NBCUniversal is to license our products and maximize the cash flow of our individual channels. If people are interested in putting together OTT businesses, like Sling or the Hulu product or Sony or others, we are going to sell to those suppliers. We want to make sure that we make as much or more selling to an over the top supplier as we do selling to an MVPD.” (emphasis added)
The implication is clear and Burke's view is no different from that of the leaders of Fox, Disney, CBS, etc. Apple is not going to get to carry and pay for NBCU's popular channels, they are going to have to take the whole bundle or pay a premium for taking less. That's what Sony is looking at with PlayStation Vue.

Maybe Sling TV isn't taking the whole bundle, but thinking about it more broadly. If Dish Network rolls out a secondary Disney channel a bit more broadly to its 13 million DBS subscribers, Disney will certainly be willing to give up not getting the full bundle onto Dish's Sling TV service with its less than 1 million subscribers.

There is no good reason for the owners of the must-have content to support new competitors who give them worse economics than they get from the incumbents. New entrants to the market always pay more for the must have programming. DBS paid more than cable. Telcos paid more than DBS.

If the incumbents business is declining and the upstarts are growing there is even more reason to insist on the same or better terms. Unless somehow an upstart grows without must-have programming. At that point, it is no longer must-have content, of course.

Burke was speaking at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Media, Communications & Entertainment conference in Los Angeles.

A previous post: Getting Content for Dish's OTT Service