For years, cable and satellite customers have been grumbling and complaining about getting dozens – and now hundreds – of channels, but there’s never anything good on. Wouldn’t it be great if we only received channels we actually watched and didn’t have to pay for the rest?
It looks like we’re taking a small baby step in that direction with announcements that both HBO and CBS will be offering streaming-only services for their content. HBO was first to announce that customers will no longer require a traditional subscription to take advantage of its HBO GO streaming service, which will be unbundled sometime in 2015. Just a day later, CBS launched its CBS All Access, which lets subscribers view almost 7,000 individual episodes including brand new episodes of current programs posted a day after they air on CBS television.
There’s no word yet on how much HBO plans to charge for its streaming-only service, but CBS – which is offering a 1-week free trial to lure people in – is $5.99 a month. For that amount, not only do you get the network’s current crop of hit shows like The Big Bang Theory, The Good Wife and NCIS, you also get a huge archive of classic programs like the original Star Trek, The Brady Bunch, Hawaii Five-O (the original!) and The Twilight Zone.
But with other streaming services on the market, does it make sense for consumers to essentially pay per channel? If someone pays $6 for CBS and perhaps a bit more per month for HBO and then starts adding on other services, it quickly ends up being the same price as a basic cable or satellite package. When you consider that Hulu Plus is about $8 a month and Netflix streaming is $9 a month, the math may not actually add up to huge savings, although the upside is you’re only getting content and programs you really want and are likely to watch.
One advantage that both HBO and CBS get in this streaming move is cutting out the MSOs as the middleman. Today, these networks and others don’t have the close direct relationship with customers that cable and satellite companies do. By cutting the cord and reaching out directly to consumers, they bring that personal touch into the mix.
On the flipside, what’s to stop the traditional service providers – i.e. the companies that control the infrastructure – from making it difficult for these streaming services to run over their networks? Netflix has famously battled several service providers against throttling, and there’s a chance it could happen more often if other television networks and content providers decide to offer standalone service, all of which relies on broadband networks.
So is the great television unbundling a win for anyone? As long as true innovators like Aereo keep getting shut down, and cable and satellite operators hold near-monopolies, it seems like there’s no clear winner. But getting content to the people that want it and are willing to pay for it seems to be a winning strategy that hopefully will stay on the air.