There has been an enormous amount of focus in the media world over the last 18 months about how TV and movie entertainment are moving to streaming services. While Netflix has become a staple of television service in some 70 million American households, the addition of Disney+, Hulu, HBO Max, Peacock, Apple TV+, Paramount+, and Amazon Prime has created a veritable buffet of entertainment choice for consumers. The recent merger announcement of Discovery with Time Warner, bringing together Discovery+ with HBO Max, has further underscored that the future of TV lies in streaming entertainment services.
Sports programming has gotten into the game. ESPN, which has been slow out of the gates into streaming, has recently signed renewal deals for substantial amounts of professional sports programming that give it flexibility to air those offerings on the ESPN+ streaming service. In addition, Amazon recently agreed to pay the NFL $10 billion just to air Thursday Night Football on its streaming service over the next ten years.
As entertainment and sports programming migrate to the streaming world, the cable and satellite bundles of channels are losing subscribers at an accelerating rate with viewers cutting the cord — or in the case of younger viewers, never subscribing to cable or satellite to begin with. So, while the streaming wars heat up, and legacy television channels lose both viewing audience and subscribers, no one is really focused on what this means for television news.
To understand the impending crisis for television news, one needs to understand the economics of the current television system. Television channels today not only derive advertising revenue from attracting an audience, but crucially important to their economics are the fees paid by cable and satellite operators for carrying those channels. For instance, CNN, CNBC, MSNBC, and Fox News get paid very substantial fees across every cable and satellite household in the United States of which today. Today, that means subscriber fees are paid to news channels covering over 75 million, down from close to 100 million at one point not long ago. The news channels get paid across every single one of those households even though only a small minority of households watch each of those channels. That creates a very substantial revenue base supporting the big TV news franchises — regardless of how many viewers the channel actually has, it is getting paid across all cable and satellite homes.
Similarly, local television stations, which are the backbone of local TV news are paid what are called “retransmission consent fees” from cable and satellite operators, which are very substantial payments for the right to carry those stations. Those stations also are paid across all the cable and satellite homes in a given local market, regardless of what percentage of those homes actually watch any given channel. Because of this unique payment system for legacy broadcast and cable channels, many consider this payment system to be the best possible economic model the television industry could have.
As we move away from consumers getting a bundle of cable or channels to an environment where consumers take a few streaming services that they pay directly for, the whole concept of collecting money across all homes goes away.
Entertainment content is making this transition, even though many industry analysts doubt that all entertainment streaming services will make it. Sports programming is beginning to make this transition as well. But there is a huge question mark about how news will be supported in this new streaming world. Any one news channel transitioning to a live streaming service would have to charge a very substantial fee to each home to make up for the cable and satellite carriage it is losing. News viewers may be the last ones to abandon the pay-TV bundle, but inevitably as the reach of that bundle shrinks, those fees will shrink along with it.
Complicating the picture further, there is substantial additional competition for television news, with Roku and Amazon both providing ample streaming news services. They do not have the star power or depth of content of the better-known TV brands, but do provide a reasonable news menu for those who are not political junkies or news channel brand loyalists.
TV news began as public service programming that broadcasters had to carry as a condition of getting a license from the FCC. The television news business eventually turned profitable, but it will soon face an existential crisis as to how to remain so.
There are some possibilities for preserving the economics of news channels and local news, beyond sending each channel out on its own to try to get sufficient direct-to-consumer streaming revenue from loyal viewers.
One possibility is to create a large bundle of national and local news, made available through a single packager. This is what Apple is doing with magazines and newspapers, offering scores of popular magazines and newspapers digitally for a monthly fee at $9.99 with Apple News+, but so far it has been underwhelming in terms of its adoption. And traditional media companies are going to be extremely wary of enhancing Apple’s power in the media marketplace as they increasingly compete in streaming entertainment.
Another possibility would be to find a more Switzerland-like player to act as a neutral distributor. News channels and stations are all in this predicament together — if they can’t get subscription fees from all cable and satellite households, they’d at least like to get fees from all news households, even those that don’t represent loyal viewership of their particular brand.
Certain companies may be able to go it alone better than others. Comcast and NBCUniversal have a broad array of assets including CNBC, the leading business news channel; MSNBC, the leading source of progressive-oriented political news; Sky News, the leading international news channel; NBC News Now, a streaming service; news offerings from digital streaming service Peacock; and a multitude of local stations and regional news channels. Providing a separate news bundle to households who otherwise subscribe to Peacock could drive broad uptake of news content while also driving enhanced distribution of the broader entertainment streaming service.
Fox is putting a lot of shoulder behind Fox Nation, a subscription news channel intended to satisfy the insatiable appetite among that news audience for right-wing, often extreme commentary. There may be a model here for Fox, but my guess is it is not a sufficient one to make up for the substantial financial decline the Fox News Channel will suffer with significantly diminished cable/satellite subscriber fee support.
The center of any democracy is a well-informed citizenry and a robust marketplace of ideas where quality news content can survive and thrive. Right now, there is no obvious answer to saving TV news as pay-TV subscribership declines, but let’s not allow quality television news to become collateral damage in the entertainment streaming wars.
Tom Rogers is Executive Chairman of WinView. He was the first President of NBC Cable.
Disclosure: Comcast-owned NBCUniversal is the parent company of CNBC.
Elon Musk says he won’t vote for Biden over Trump, calls Haley ‘pro-censorship’
Elon Musk, chief executive officer of Tesla Inc., during a fireside discussion on artificial intelligence risks with Rishi Sunak, UK prime minister, not pictured, in London, UK, on Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023. Sunak convened this week’s AI summit in an effort to position the UK at the forefront of global efforts to stave off the risks presented by the rapidly-advancing technology, which in the prime minister’s own words, could extend as far as human extinction. Photographer: Tolga Akmen/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images
“I would not vote for Biden,” Musk said during a wide-ranging interview with Andrew Ross Sorkin at the DealBook Summit in New York. “I’m not saying I’d vote for Trump.”
When asked what he’d do if those were the two nominees, Musk said, “This is definitely a difficult choice here.”
Musk, who says he supported Barack Obama’s candidacy, has moved rightward in his politics in recent years, writing in a tweet last year that “today’s Democratic Party has been hijacked by extremists.”
While he hasn’t endorsed a specific candidate for the 2024 election, Musk said last year that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was his preferred choice at the time. He also hosted DeSantis’s campaign launch on X, formerly Twitter. More recently, Musk has said that Vivek Ramaswamy is “looking like a strong candidate.”
Musk told Sorkin on Wednesday that he disagrees with Ramaswamy on climate issues, but he shares some of the candidate’s views on government overreach and censorship. DeSantis’s name did not come up in the interview.
When asked if he could support Nikki Haley among the Republicans, Musk said no and described the former South Carolina governor as a “pro-censorship candidate.”
In terms of which party is more favorable towards freedom of speech, Musk said that “on balance, the Democrats appear to be more pro-censorship than Republicans,” which he characterized as a change from the past.
“We certainly get more complaints from the left than the right,” Musk said.
Elon Musk claims advertisers are trying to ‘blackmail’ him, says ‘Go f— yourself’
Tesla and SpaceX’s CEO Elon Musk reacts during an in-conversation event with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in London, Britain, Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023.
Kirsty Wigglesworth | Reuters
Speaking at the 2023 DealBook Summit in New York on Wednesday, Elon Musk, the owner of social media site X (formerly Twitter), scoffed at advertisers threatening to leave the platform because of antisemitic posts he amplified there.
“If somebody’s gonna try to blackmail me with advertising? Blackmail me with money? Go f—yourself.” He added, “Don’t advertise.”
He also implied that fans of his, and of X, would boycott those advertisers in kind. He specifically took aim at Disney.
“The whole world will know that those advertisers killed the company and we will document it in great detail,” Musk threatened.
He also told interviewer Andrew Ross Sorkin, “I have no problem being hated. Hate away.”
In recent weeks, Musk has promoted and sometimes verbally endorsed what the White House called “antisemitic and racist hate” on X, formerly Twitter, the social media platform he owns and runs as CTO.
He called those tweets, “one of the most foolish if not the most foolish thing I’ve ever done on the platform.”
“I’m sorry for that tweet or post,” he said. He added, “I tried my best to clarify, six ways to Sunday, but you know at least I think over time it will be obvious that in fact, far from being antisemitic, I am in fact philosemitic.”
His inflammatory posts on the social media platform led large advertisers, including Disney, Apple, and many others, to suspend campaigns there, and drove some famous users away from the platform, including Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo.
Musk, who is also the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, has denied that he is antisemitic, and said that on X, “Clear calls for extreme violence are against our terms of service and will result in suspension.”
He also traveled to Israel this week, where he met and spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. When Netanyahu said he wanted to “deradicalize” and “rebuild” Gaza, Musk offered to help. Musk told Sorkin on stage that his visit to Israel was planned before his tweets, and were not part of an “apology tour.” Previously, Musk had said he wanted to bring SpaceX satellite communications service to Israel and humanitarian organizations in Gaza.
Musk’s personal account on X currently displays a follower count of more than 164 million — though tech blog Mashable reported in August that a majority of Musk’s listed followers appeared to be inauthentic or inactive accounts.
Earlier on Wednesday, the UAW launched campaigns aimed at Tesla and 12 other automakers in the U.S. Sorkin asked Musk what that means for his EV business.
Musk espoused negative general views about unions and said they create a “lords and peasants” atmosphere at companies, and “naturally try to create negativity,” pitting workers against management.
He said, “Many people at Tesla have come up, gone from workign on the line to being in senior management and there is no lords and peasants — everyone eats at the same table.”
He also added, “If Tesla gets unionized, it will be because we deserve it and we failed in some way.”
At one point, Sorkin asked, “Do you feel like anybody has leverage over you?”
Musk replied, “If we make bad products that people don’t want to use, the users will vote with their resources and use something else. My companies are overseen by regulators. SpaceX, Starlink, Tesla – are overseen by cumulatively by…a few hundred regulators because we’re in 55 countries.”
Later, he noted that he complies with nearly all the regulations levied upon his companies, but “once in awhile” he disagrees with a regulation and would object to it and disobey. “I’m incredibly rule-following,” he claimed.
Sorkin asked, “How do you think about the leverage that the Chinese have over you?” alluding to Tesla’s factory there and the company’s reliance on Chinese consumers for a percentage of its sales. Sorkin added, “Is it hypocritical for you to be doing business in China, or other countries, as it relates to X and other things that don’t follow this free speech path that you have espoused?”
The CEO replied, “The best that the platform can do is adhere to the laws of any given country. Do you think there’s something more we can do than that?”
He later added that he believes the Chinese electric car companies are extremely competitive, and said that many people believe the top ten EV companies in the world will be Tesla and nine Chinese makers.
On OpenAI and its recent boardroom struggles, Musk said he had talked to a lot of people but had not found out what precisely led to the recent firing and then re-hiring of CEO Sam Altman. He also said he has “mixed feelings” about Altman personally, hinting that he feels like the OpenAI CEO has too much power. “The ring of power can corrupt.”
When it was founded, OpenAI’s original board included both Altman and Musk, but Musk left in 2018 after poaching a star engineer from the company to run Autopilot software engineering at Tesla.
Musk also said that he’s worried about the danger of AI harming humanity, and that he was “having trouble sleeping at night” because of it.
This is breaking news. Please check back for updates.
FTC Chair Lina Khan defends her track record when it comes to blocking mergers and doesn’t subscribe to Amazon Prime
Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan speaks during The New York Times annual DealBook Summit in New York City on Nov. 29, 2023.
Michael M. Santiago | Getty Images
Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan defended her track record in court when it comes to blocking mergers, saying she believes the agency should take big swings and she’s “quite pleased” with the work it has done so far under her tenure, which started in June 2021.
Speaking at The New York Times DealBook Summit on Wednesday, Khan said that whenever the FTC brings a case, “you want to win it,” but that whenever there’s a loss, the agency will “try to figure out what went wrong.”
The FTC has had some high-profile losses during Khan’s tenure, including a failed attempt to block Facebook parent Meta from buying virtual reality company Within Unlimited. It also lost a fight to stop Microsoft‘s $69 billion acquisition of gaming giant Activision Blizzard, though the agency is still appealing the court ruling.
Under her leadership, Khan said the FTC has brought 11 cases against mergers, and in five instances, the companies abandoned their plans after the agency filed suit. There were 14 deals that were dropped during the FTC’s investigation, she added.
“Big picture, of course the two cases that we lost we would’ve wanted to win, but we’re quite pleased overall with our efforts,” Khan said on stage.
Khan is in the middle of what could be a career-defining antitrust case. In September, the FTC and 17 states sued Amazon, accusing the retail giant of wielding its “monopoly power” to artificially rise prices, degrade quality for shoppers and stifle competition. The lawsuit was long anticipated, as Khan rose to prominence for her 2017 Yale Law Journal article, “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox.”
Khan argued in the piece that the prevailing antitrust framework at the time, which focused primarily on monopolies’ harm to consumers, failed to capture the ways tech giants such as Amazon are able to dominate in the digital world even while offering lower prices and more selection to consumers.
The agency has also taken aim at Amazon’s Prime service, alleging it tricked users into signing up for the program and intentionally complicated the cancellation process. Amazon has disputed both of the FTC’s lawsuits, calling them “wrong on the facts and the law.”
In the interview Wednesday, Khan said she doesn’t subscribe to Prime, which costs $139 a year and includes perks such as free shipping, access to streaming content and discounts on Whole Foods groceries.
Asked why she hasn’t subscribed to Prime, Khan replied, “I just haven’t.”
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