Thursday, October 16, 2014

CBS Joins HBO in Over the Top Video Streaming Market

The crack in the over the top video streaming market just widened a bit more. CBS Corporation has launched CBS All Access, its new over the top subscription video service, following the announcement by HBO earlier in the week that it is launching its own over the top streaming service.

CBS All Access offers subscribers thousands of episodes from the current season, previous seasons and classic shows on demand, as well as the ability to stream local CBS Television stations live in 14 of the largest U.S. markets at launch.

CBS All Access is available at and on mobile devices through the CBS App for iOS and Android.

CBS All Access will be available on other major connected devices in the coming months.

For $5.99 per month, CBS All Access includes the full current seasons of 15 primetime shows with episodes available the day after they air.

Oddly enough, as more programmers launch their own over the top streaming services, consumers will have more choice, and also face more more potential hassles.

Already, most Netflix customers also buy a linear video subscription. And some consumers might already buy a few over the top video services, as well. That potentially will create a fragmentation issue, where multiple subscriptions are necessary.

So, as more channels launch their own streaming offers, a new problem is going to develop.

One advantage of the linear video subscription model is that it bundles channels and genres, so customers do not have to buy discrete channels, one by one. That also is the downside, as users complain that they are forced to buy networks and channels they do not want to watch.

Ironically, end user hassles will grow directly as each channel makes it own over the top offers available. Inevitably, demand for a bundled solution will grow again.

Still, lighter users may well benefit. Heavy users might continue to find a linear subscription, with over the top access as a feature, still makes better sense.

The first new crack in the streaming market was caused by HBO, long expected to take the lead in transitioning to a full streaming capability, among traditional cable channels.

The leading subscription services already in the market, including Netflix, Amazon Prime and others, have emphasized movie content. In a real sense, HBO itself relies substantially on movie content, though it long has emphasized its original series.

HBO always has been sold as a “stand-alone” product, separate from the advertising-supported channels and networks that are part of standard subscription video packages.

For that reason, HBO has less to lose than the ad-supported channels by offering its content both as part of a linear subscription video package, and as a streaming service.

That is not to say risks are absent, or negligible. It isn’t clear how many incremental subscribers would buy a streaming HBO service if they did not also have to buy a linear video service first.

Nor is it clear how HBO’s current distribution partners will react.

But the big new developments are over the top offerings from providers of live television, such as CBS, the other broadcast TV providers, and then the ad-supported “cable channels, since much movie content already is available from the likes of Netflix or Amazon Prime.

The CBS service also includes the ability to live stream local CBS stations in 14 of the largest markets at launch, with more to be added as affiliates join the new service.

Full past seasons of eight major current series, including “The Good Wife,” “Blue Bloods” and “Survivor” also are included.

CBS All Access also offers more than 5,000 episodes of CBS classics, including every episode of “Star Trek,” “Cheers,” “MacGyver,” “Twin Peaks” and “CSI:Miami.”

Subscribers also will be able to view the Grammy Awards, Academy of Country Music Awards and the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, CBS says.

“Everything that we’re seeing is completely consistent with the whole society, not only the U.S., but around the world is moving to Internet video and Internet television,” Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has said.

“We saw Starz a week ago announced that they are doing an Internet video service; we saw HBO; perhaps all the other providers over the coming weeks,” Hastings said. “And so think of all the big networks are moving to Internet video and it’s just becoming a very large opportunity.”

How much more growth can Netflix expect in its most-mature markets? Extrapolating from recent comments by Reed Hastings, Netflix CEO, about double the number of subscribers it already has gotten.

If Netflix has about 50.65 million subscribers, with 72 percent of that in the U.S. market, then Netflix has about 36.47 million subscribers.

If Netflix really is in the middle of the product life cycle “S curve,” then Netflix might expect to add another 36.5 million U.S. subscriptions until it reaches market saturation.

But tomorrow’s market now is starting to become more crowded. Now that HBO, CBS and Starz have made OTT moves, others will follow.

Just how fast the cracks cause the dam to crumble is not clear. But a reasonable observer would have reasoned that a long period of gestation ultimately would culminate in an inflection point where consumer behavior could change quite quickly.

Maybe we haven’t reached the inflection point, yet. But that moment is approaching.

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