Disney, WarnerMedia and NBCUniversal wrestle with balancing the value of cable networks and streaming services
If last year’s biggest corporate media challenge was launching subscription streaming services, this year’s unifying dilemma is figuring out what to put on them.
The tension between how to balance streaming video, theatrical release and linear TV is leading to some peculiar choices bound to confuse consumers in what’s becoming an increasingly jumbled landscape.
“The challenge all of these companies are battling — the central question — is what content goes where, who decides, and why?” said Rich Greenfield, a media analyst at LightShed Partners.
The programming decisions may alter how the public views streaming video. So far, most media companies have marketed streaming video as a complement to traditional pay television. This is why so many of the products are named with the suffix “plus” — Disney+, ViacomCBS‘s Paramount+, Discovery+, etc.
In the long run, it’s possible each streaming platform will become the home for all of a media company’s programming. The “plusses” will essentially be lopped off. ESPN+ may just be ESPN, with everything ESPN has to offer.
But the world isn’t there yet. And the results are increasingly confusing for consumers as new programming is made specifically for streaming services, and the best of linear TV still doesn’t show up on streaming.
The streaming labyrinth
For scripted television series, media executives have largely made the decision that streaming services will be the home for the highest quality original programming. Disney, AT&T‘s WarnerMedia, Comcast‘s NBCUniversal and ViacomCBS are all attempting to convince Wall Street they can grow beyond traditional cable television. They’re using new hit shows, including “The Mandalorian,” “Mare of Easttown,” and “Yellowstone,” as bait to entice subscribers. The results have varied from service to service, but all of the major new streaming services are growing by millions of customers each quarter.
For movies, there’s disagreement at a film-by-film level across the different services. Disney put Pixar movies “Soul” and “Luca” directly on its Disney+ service for no additional charge upon release. For “Jungle Cruise,” “Black Widow” and “Raya and the Last Dragon,” the company decided to make users spend an additional $30 to stream the movies before eventually making them free with a subscription. NBCUniversal placed “The Boss Baby: Family Business” on its paid tier of “Peacock” but only released “F9” in theaters. WarnerMedia decided to place its entire slate of 2021 films directly on HBO Max but won’t do that for blockbuster movies in 2022.
For news and sports, most media companies have kept their most valuable programming exclusively on traditional cable TV. The most-watched primetime programming on CNN, MSNBC and ESPN is still locked inside the cable bundle. This has allowed executives to push against the steady but not yet overwhelming surge of pay-TV cancellations, keeping alive a highly profitable business that brings in billions of dollars each year.
NBCUniversal is navigating the challenge of distributing valuable programming as it broadcasts the Olympic Games. Executives can choose to air live and pre-recorded events on NBC’s broadcast channel, NBC’s cable networks, NBC’s authenticated apps for cable subscribers, NBC’s free apps, Peacock’s free tier and Peacock’s paid tier.
The variety of choices has led to a complicated ecosystem because NBCUniversal is attempting to achieve several goals at once. The company wants to push Peacock subscriptions, appease pay-TV distributors who have agreed to many years of fee increases because they were receiving unique content, and maintain expensive TV advertising rates by attaching commercials to exclusive live programming.
“It’s the innovator’s dilemma in action,” said one veteran broadcast television executive. “You know the linear TV world is collapsing, but you’re trying to stay on the Titanic for as long as possible. At the same time, you’re setting up the lifeboats, which are digital and streaming.”
Making the numbers work
Disney is staring down a major streaming dilemma as soon as next year with “Monday Night Football.” The company secured rights to stream the perennially most-watched cable series on ESPN+ in its new TV rights deal with the National Football League in March. But Disney and ESPN haven’t said anything about when it will actually include “Monday Night Football” on ESPN+.
ESPN is by far the most expensive network on cable TV. It gained that distinction by being the only way Americans can watch “Monday Night Football” and other popular sporting events. If Disney starts moving previously exclusive programming from ESPN to ESPN+, pay-TV distributors will push back on future rate increases and millions of consumers will be given another reason to cancel cable TV.
The math makes this calculus tricky. Beginning Aug. 13, Disney will charge $6.99 per month for ESPN+ after a recent price increase. But Disney makes more than $9 per month per cable subscriber for ESPN, according to Kagan, the media research division at S&P Global, in pay-TV distribution fees. When bundled with the other ESPN networks, Disney Channel and ABC, Disney makes more than $16 per month.
In other words, for every customer canceling cable, Disney loses more than $16 per month. It will need to start charging more for its streaming products to break even and that’s not even counting the loss in advertising associated with its linear programming, which dwarfs streaming video advertising revenue.
“Nobody is ready to unplug the linear ecosystem, because it brings in so much cash,” Greenfield said. “So they’re all balancing how to manage legacy assets with future investments that are free cash flow negative to show Wall Street that they’re trying. They’re all walking the tight rope.”
News programming decisions
NBCUniversal and WarnerMedia announced this month they’ll hire hundreds of new employees to beef up their streaming news services.
Instead of simply duplicating MSNBC, CNBC and CNN programming on “Peacock” and “HBO Max,” the media companies are taking a different strategy. CNN is building a subscription news service, CNN+. CNN chief digital officer Andrew Morse said he plans to hire 450 people to develop and market new series and newscasts. NBCUniversal News Group Chairman Cesar Conde announced plans to hire nearly 200 new employees across its news brands, the majority of which will support NBC News Now, the company’s flagship streaming network.
The decision to create separate programming for streaming — some of which may duplicate the content of what’s already being broadcast on linear TV — can be viewed in several different ways.
Skeptically, it could be seen as a waste of resources, filled with redundancies, as a “moment in time” decision to keep exclusivity in the cable bundle that may no longer exist in two or three years.
But NBC News executives say the investment acknowledges streaming audiences aren’t the same as linear viewers. That should lead to programming decisions that acknowledge digital viewers tend to be younger and more diverse.
“We’re always thinking about ways to optimize our journalism for each distribution platform,” said Noah Oppenheim, president of NBC News. ”How do we engage these new audiences? Sometimes the answers lead to different faces on screen, different approaches to storytelling, a different lens on the world.”
It’s unclear if there’s actually an audience for an all-streaming news network — especially one that demands consumers pay a monthly subscription fee, such as CNN+, which debuts in 2022. The notion of programming to a younger audience is suspect, as a video news broadcast, whether streaming or on traditional TV, may simply not appeal to those under 25. The decision to invest more in streaming news could lead to a gradual decline in investing in broadcast or cable productions if total revenue is shrinking.
NBC News Chief Digital Officer Chris Berend said he’s confident further investment in NBC News Now will pay off because he can already see the growth in time spent on the existing product, which launched in 2019. NBC News Now is free for consumers, backed by advertising.
“We are incredibly excited about the millions of hours audiences spend with NBC News NOW and how that continues to grow as we continue to invest,” said Berend. “That time spent, which includes more than an hour per visit on some platforms [like YouTube], is a clear indicator we are satisfying our audience across many platforms, each with their own demographic nuances.”
Disclosure: NBCUniversal is the parent company of CNBC.
WATCH: Comcast CEO Brian Roberts on earnings and streaming business
TikTok halts e-commerce service in Indonesia following ban
A merchant sells crystal ornaments via a live TikTok broadcast.
CFOTO | Future Publishing | Getty Images
TikTok Indonesia said it will end transactions on its e-commerce marketplace by Thursday, in order to comply with new local regulations.
The announcement comes after the Indonesian ministry of trade last week set a one-week deadline for TikTok to become a standalone app, without any e-commerce feature, or risk being shut down.
“Our priority is to remain compliant with local laws and regulations,” said TikTok in a statement on Tuesday.
“As such, we will no longer facilitate e-commerce transactions in TikTok Shop Indonesia by 17:00 GMT+7, October 4, and will continue to cooperate with the relevant authorities on the path forward,” it said.
The move comes after President Joko Widodo recently called for social media regulations. He said the influx of such platforms has contributed to a sales decline for domestic businesses by flooding the market with foreign imports.
The new regulation could deal a major blow to TikTok’s Southeast Asian ambitions. CEO Shou Zi Chew previously said that the app will invest billions of dollars into the region as it looks to diversify its business globally as U.S. pressure escalates.
Indonesia is TikTok’s largest Southeast Asian market and second-largest market globally with 125 million users after the U.S., according to the company.
Sachin Mittal, head of telecom, media and technology research at DBS Bank, previously said that TikTok “operating as a standalone app may still be challenging.”
He explained logging into a separate app might lead to a sharp drop-out rate as most purchases on TikTok are impulse buys.
Ripple obtains full license to operate in Singapore as it expands in Asia-Pacific
Brad Garlinghouse, chief executive officer of Ripple Labs Inc., speaks during the Token2049 conference in Singapore, on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023.
Joseph Nair | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Cryptocurrency company Ripple said on Wednesday that it has obtained a major payments institution license in Singapore, a strategic step toward growing its presence in the Asia-Pacific region.
The new development comes less than four months after the Monetary Authority of Singapore granted an initial in-principle approval in June. With the full license, Ripple will continue to provide regulated crypto payment services in Singapore.
“Over 90% of Ripple’s business is outside of the U.S., and Singapore – and to a larger degree Asia Pacific – is one of its fastest growing regions,” the company said.
Ripple said it will continue to prioritize the region for adoption of its crypto payment services.
Monica Long, president of Ripple, told CNBC in an interview last month that the Singapore office’s “headcount has more than doubled in the past year because our business within the Asia-Pacific region has really exploded.”
Singapore has led crypto regulation in the region. The country’s Payment Services Act — which regulates payment services and the provision of crypto services to the public — has been in effect since January 2020.
The city-state has also stepped up scrutiny on crypto firms. It ordered crypto service providers to safekeep customer assets under a statutory trust before the end of 2023. It also restricts such firms from facilitating lending or staking of their retail customers’ assets.
“Since establishing Singapore as our Asia Pacific headquarters in 2017, the country has been pivotal to Ripple’s global business. We have hired exceptional talent and local leadership … and plan to continue growing our presence in a progressive jurisdiction like Singapore,” Brad Garlinghouse, CEO of Ripple, said in a statement.
“Under MAS’ leadership, Singapore has developed into one of the leading fintech and digital asset hubs striking the balance between innovation, consumer protection and responsible growth,” said Garlinghouse.
The comment stand in contrast to Ripple’s situation in the U.S., where it and Coinbase are embroiled in lawsuits with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The SEC charged Ripple and its founders in 2020, alleging they illegally sold its native cryptocurrency XRP without first registering it with the SEC. But in July, a landmark ruling determined the token was not, in itself, necessarily a security.
Coinbase, Ripple and other crypto firms have slammed the U.S. for a lack of clarity around crypto rules and threatened to leave the country in response to the SEC’s crackdown.
Coinbase announced on Monday that it has obtained a major payment institution license in Singapore, after obtaining in-principle approval about a year ago. Ripple and Coinbase join more than a dozen firms that are licensed to offer crypto services in Singapore.
Intel plans to IPO programmable chip unit within three years; stock rises after hours
Pat Gelsinger, CEO, of Intel Corporation, testifies during the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing on semiconductors titled Developing Next Generation Technology for Innovation, in Russell Senate Office Building on Wednesday, March 23, 2022.
Tom Williams | CQ-Roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images
Intel said it will treat its programmable chip unit as as a standalone business, with an aim to spin it out through an IPO in the next two to three years.
The chipmaker’s stock price rose 2.3% in extended trading after the announcement on Tuesday.
Intel’s Programmable Solutions Group will have its own balance sheet as it heads toward independence. The company will continue to support the business and retain a majority stake, and could also seek private investment.
Sandra Rivera, who leads Intel’s broader Data Center and AI group, will become PSG CEO. Intel will manufacture the group’s chips.
The move follows Intel’s spinoff last year of Mobileye, its self-driving subsidiary, and continues a strategy under CEO Patrick Gelsinger to control costs and focus on the foundry business and core processors in an effort to catch Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. in manufacturing by 2026. Intel acquired the FPGA business when it bought Altera for $16.7 billion in 2015.
“Our intention to establish PSG as a standalone business and pursue an IPO is another example of how we are consistently unlocking more value for our stakeholders,” Gelsinger said in a statement.
The move also highlights the strong demand in the semiconductor industry for field programmable gate arrays, or FPGAs. Lattice Semiconductor, a maker of FPGAs, has seen its stock rise about 30% so far in 2023, and reported 18% growth in sales in the most recent quarter. AMD, Intel’s chief rival, bought FPGA maker Xilinx for $35 billion in 2022.
FPGAs are simpler than the powerful processors at the heart of servers and PCs but are often more flexible, respond faster and can be more power-efficient. They’re “programmed” after they’re shipped for specific uses in data centers, telecommunications, video encoding, aviation and other industries. FPGAs can also be used to run some artificial intelligence algorithms.
Intel’s FPGAs are sold under the Agilex brand. Intel doesn’t break out PSG sales yet, but said in July that the unit had three record quarters in a row, offsetting a slump in server chip sales. PSG has been part of Intel’s Data Center and AI group, which generated $4 billion in sales in the second quarter.
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