The landscape for the free-to-air TV broadcasters is changing, and neither free nor air is part of the new equation. CBS, NBC, Fox and ABC are moving to stream their broadcast channels online, but viewers will have to pay to watch them.
Several news stories involving TV broadcasters illustrate just how much the world of entertainment has changed.
Fox brings primetime online
Fox is not the first broadcaster to bring their linear channels online, that distinction goes to CBS with its All Access SVOD product. However, Fox’s approach is a novel one. CBS is working with affiliates to make their live 24×7 channels available through All Access. Fox is focusing on prime time. It will stream its shows directly through its Fox Now app and allow affiliates to show their brands and sell local ads for the online breaks.
CBS All Access does not have national coverage with its broadcast channels. For example, states like Montana, South Dakota and New Mexico have no local CBS affiliates available in the app. Fox has managed to get broad agreement with its affiliates and has national coverage in all 210 of the US TV markets.
Fox is staying firmly allied with pay TV operators. You will need to enter your operators credentials to watch. Interestingly, Playstation (PS) Vue subscribers can authenticate with the app, but Sling TV subs cannot. Fox just launched a new bundle with Sling TV including local affiliates and other Fox channels.[Update: ABC relaunched its “free” online offering. Viewers will still need a pay TV subscription to watch recent shows and live local channels]
CBS and Disney close to deal with YouTube
YouTube is anxious to enter the skinny bundle stakes, and is readying a $35 a month bundle rumored to be called “Unplugged”. News surfaced today that it was close to finalizing a deal with Disney’s ESPN and ABC and with CBS. Disney properties are no surprise, as they already appear in Sling TV and PS Vue. However, CBS would be a surprise. It has resisted appearing in skinny bundles, preferring instead to focus on All Access.
Perhaps the way CBS views its free-to-air channel is changing, which is why it is prepared to deal with YouTube. The company’s Star Trek franchise has always been premiered on its national broadcast channel. However, next year it will release the latest reboot exclusively through CBS All Access. To drive people to the show CBS will air the pilot episode on the broadcast channel. Perhaps CBS is planning to use its broadcast stations for lower value shows and use them to promote higher value content available only through its subscription products.
NBC expects record Olympic revenue, boosted by online
NBC expects to make record advertising revenue from the Rio Olympics. This it attributes to the fact that more events will occur live during prime time (Rio is just one hour ahead of New York.) However, the fact that NBC will live stream all the events means viewers will, for the first time in the US, be able to watch their favorite event as it happens.
The live event streams are not open to everyone. You will need a pay TV subscription to watch through the NBC Sports app and NBC Sports website. No surprise there, as NBC is owned by Comcast. What’s more Comcast is deeply integrating online and broadcast Olympic coverage in a new experience only available through its X1 cable TV service.
It is certainly not fair to say TV broadcasters are totally shying away from free online video. For example, CBS News is partnering with Twitter to live stream the Republican and Democratic national conventions. However, if someone wants to watch the best content online, either live or on-demand, they will have to pay.
Why it matters
National TV broadcasters are moving their free-to-air content online, both in traditional broadcast channels and in on-demand libraries.
However, none of it can be watched free-ad-supported.
Viewers must either have a pay TV subscription, or subscribe to an online service.