Just how broken is cable TV?
So broken that Charter, the second-biggest cable company in the US with nearly 15 million subscribers, says it’s willing to walk away from the business entirely.
Charter is currently locked in an ugly dispute with Disney over what are called carriage fees, or how much it pays to give its subscribers access to channels like ESPN. That’s led to a blackout of Disney-owned channels that’s taken the US Open, among other programming, off the air.
Fights like this have been common across the history of cable TV. But there’s something a bit different about this one: Charter is openly saying the cable TV model is in a death spiral that’s leading consumers to pay more and more for a deteriorating product.
In an investor presentation last week, Charter laid out its position in brutal simplicity, citing work from analysts at SVB MoffettNathanson.
Here’s Charter’s argument in a nutshell: Companies like Disney responded to the rise of Netflix and streaming video by using their best content to launch their own streamers (think Disney+). That accelerated cord-cutting by lowering the quality of the content on cable TV. Because Charter pays companies like Disney per subscriber, fewer cable TV subscribers meant less money coming in for TV networks. And that meant that sports programmers (think Disney-owned ESPN) had to keep raising their per-subscriber rates to afford the extremely expensive sports rights (which, as my colleague Lucia Moses pointed out, are expected to top $30 billion by 2025).
Here’s a chart that Charter put in its presentation that shows the downward spiral in action, sourced from SVB MoffettNathanson:
According to Charter, this cycle has led to customers paying more and more money for a worse and worse product.
That’s a bum deal, right? Charter might never actually say it out loud, but it’s clear from the presentation that it thinks the cable TV model sucks now and has become a bad deal for customers.
Here’s another slide from the presentation that shows the position Charter says it’s in:
So, where do we go from here? In this dysfunctional market, Charter is looking beyond TV, and says the “video product is no longer a key driver of financial performance.”
Charter said its two options are either “create a path to a new economic and distribution model” or “largely exit the traditional video business.”
“We’re either moving forward with a new collaborative video model or we’re moving on,” Charter President and CEO Chris Winfrey said last week.
For now, Charter wants to extract concessions from Disney in an effort to arrive at a new model.
In a world where the best TV content is increasingly on streaming services, Charter’s big idea is that Disney (and presumably others) should give its subscribers free access to streamers like Disney+.
Disney is saying “no” — for now — but I have to wonder whether that’s just an issue of price. I could easily imagine a new type of cable TV package that mixes some live news and sports channels with access to streaming services. Why not?
I don’t think there’s anyone in the industry who really thinks the current model is “working.” Something has to give. Business Insider