Quick News Bites – September 28, 2012

Why HBO, NBC, and Comcast Are Betting On A Startup To Power Their Second Screens – FastCompany. Excitement Rating: 2 out of 5. Success Rating: 3 out of 5.

I’m conflicted about how I feel about the prospect of Zeebox being introduced to America. On the one hand, I’m a big proponent of start-ups that serve as traditional media enhancers rather than traditional media disruptors. The “enhancement” business is much more likely to be successful, although the “disruption” business is much more likely to be lucrative. Think of it as hitting for singles and doubles versus hitting for home runs. That being said, I feel like any new startup product that gets backing and promotion by large corporations, in this case Comcast and HBO, automatically loses its edge and “cool-ness” factor. And with something as youth-oriented as television viewership-based social media, that is a big value to sacrifice. The app itself seems to be pretty cool, falling short of killer-app status, but still a value-add service. And with backing from Comcast and HBO, there will be no expense spared from marketing and promoting it to consumers. Hence while my excitement rating is low, my success rating is a bit higher. Risks include various factors such as: DVR rate amongst Comcast/HBO programming (outside of HBO’s hit shows and NBC’s sports unit, there’s not much protection from this risk), prevalence of Netflix and Hulu usage (ironically, NBC is a big investor in Hulu, although Zeebox seems like much more of a risk hedge than business cannibalism), audience behavior (Do people really want to talk to each other via social media during their favorite shows? Does this ruin the water cooler talk behavior that follows the next day?), and existing technologies (Facebook and Twitter could easily enter this market, while other apps such as Miso, GetGlue and Shazam already exist in this space.)

Dish Said to Be in Talks With Viacom About Internet TV – Bloomberg. Excitement Rating: 4 out of 5. Success Rating: 2 out of 5.

If Dish Network were to successfully convince Viacom to introduce a new business model that exists somewhere between a la carte pricing and the current bundling system, the repercussions could be huge throughout the industry. I’ve written much about the dynamics of the television business which falls largely on the way affiliate fees work (thanks to @bgurley for the education, via his blog). This would mark a paradigm shift away from the business model that has allowed the major broadcasters to earn over $30 billion annually from said affiliate fees. Since the talks are private and the deal is not yet done, it’s hard to determine how this would affect the future of the TV business (most of the effects are well-explained in the above mentioned link to the Bloomberg article). But if this deal were to be completed, it would be a watershed moment for Viacom, although I wonder if other conglomerates would actually follow suit. Viacom has the unique distinction of not owning any sports-property channels in its portfolio (see: BET, MTV, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon). Its programming’s “must-see-now”-ness is incredibly low when compared to the other networks (CBS has CBS Sports, ABC has ESPN, Fox has Fox Sports, NBC has NBC Sports) and I suspect it is highly affected by new technologies such as DVR, Netflix, online streaming, etc. that have destroyed its traditional advertising base (witness the fall of its credit ratings when Nickelodeon had a down quarter in viewership). Until Viacom brings in “must-see-now” programming into its channels, it will continue to remain the weakest and most susceptible conglomerate to new media disruptors.

Netflix, HBO to expand into Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden – LA Times. Excitement Rating: 3 out of 5. Success Rating: 3 out of 5.

Although many Wall Street analysts take Netflix to task for expanding overseas too quickly at the expense of focusing on its domestic business and streaming content acquisition, I’m a firm believer in its quest to become the market leader in streaming content worldwide, not just domestically. If Netflix really aims to become a game changer in the way people consume high-quality television and film content, overseas expansion is not only an inevitable initiative, it is a mandatory one. And waiting for its domestic business to flesh out before activating internationally is no sound strategy, not when its core business is so easily duplicable, software-wise. In essence, Netflix’s expansion overseas is not so much used as a revenue generator, but rather to erect a first-mover wall around the streaming content business in other countries to maintain market leadership. Although this is a very expensive endeavor in the short term (with no guarantee of success), it is very forward thinking for the benefit of the company in the future. In the Wall Street Journal’s recent interview with CEO Reed Hastings, they asked him about the overwhelming costs of expanding overseas. Replied Mr. Hastings: “It’s hard for us to get into a new market; it’s expensive. We have to license a large set of content for a relatively large amount of dollars just to launch, to be able to have enough content to attract members. Then we have to market hard, then we build the subscriber base. But that also means there are barriers to other people doing the same thing. It’s a double-edged sword, it’s expensive for us to build a big market, but it’s also expensive for someone to compete with us.”

Smart man.

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