2014 is a transformative year for the media business. We will look back several years from now and fully realize this.
First, anyone who reads our Manatt Digital Media (MDM) newsletter and my continuing blog posts knows that we are in the midst of multi-channel network (MCN) fever. Not a fad. But a fever. A fever justified by the rapid ascension of Millennial mobile video consumption and engagement which, in turn, accelerates the need for (and fuels the development of) compelling premium short-form video optimized for that digital-first platform. That means a growing need for media companies to successfully play in that world. And that means the growing importance of MCNs, which explains 2014’s accelerating pace of MCN M&A (more on that below).
But, there’s much, much more in 2014, particularly in the past several weeks. These weeks mark THE moment in time at which previously sacred traditional cable/satellite programming bundles—and the decades-old business models behind them—came under serious fire by concrete strategic actions by central players amid this accelerating mobile and OTT video reality (and the consumers—especially Millennials—behind it). Yes, there has long been talk of such moves. But, now major players in the overall ecosystem are taking real transformative action.
In October, HBO and CBS each announced in rapid succession that they would offer their own stand-alone over-the-top (OTT) services. No cable or satellite subscription required. Competing Starz network later confirmed its own major international-focused strategic initiative to that same end.
Other cases in point. Viacom recently licensed 22 of its live and VOD premium networks to Sony for its new OTT service for PlayStation, Sony TVs and other Sony connected devices. Verizon joined these others and announced an early 2015 launch for its long-anticipated “virtual” MSO that is so virtual, it is wireless—specifically designed for mobile. And, critically, core to its new service, Verizon announced a downsized “bite-sized” cable-lite programming package that features mobile-friendly MCN AwesomenessTV short-form video, in addition to big 4 broadcaster content and NFL games (via its existing exclusive smartphone deal). When announcing its new service, Verizon Chairman and CEO Lowell McAdam expressly pronounced what was almost unthinkable not long ago – i.e., that “among cable programmers, there’s been an attitude shift among cable programmers toward accepting a new over-the-top model for delivering pay TV.”
Welcome to “The Great Unbundling” of 2014. Transformative times in the media and entertainment business – particularly in the past few weeks.