Why Viacom's $20 Cable Bundle Isn't as Game-Changing as It Sounds

No sports, eh? Good luck with that.

By Kirk Miller

South Park
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22 May 2017

According to Deadline, Viacom and other “entertainment-focused programmers” are in heavy discussions to offer a cable bundle for $20, which is great if (major caveat) you don’t mind a lack of sports and news.

This news came during a recent announcement to investors by Viacom CEO Bob Bakish, who noted that his company’s networks—MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and BET—have “the largest share of viewing on pay TV for every demographic that we serve.”

According to the report, AMC and Discovery have also been in talks with cable and satellite operators for an entertainment-only bundle.

Bakish, who recently noted that the current $40 or so “skinny bundles” offered by Sling TV, DirecTV Now, YouTube TV and Hulu With Live TV are “not economically sustainable,” sees $20 as something that could “be a path to bring [cord cutters] in who want high quality entertainment.”

Possibly, but probably not. Take music, for example: While everyone is still figuring out a perfect price for streaming (we've apparently settled on $9.99 a month, but even Amazon is challenging that with $5-$8 plans and there are those who think $6 is really the streaming sweet spot), the music industry as a whole has finally recovered and seen increased revenue for the first time in years, along with a real path toward future growth.

So $20 still sounds a bit high. But you can see why the networks are toying with new pricing ideas; we’re starting to see declines for the first time ever in pay-TV subscribers. But research yours truly did just two months ago showed that while the cable industry might be able to target a few niche viewers with these reduced-price packages, nobody’s come up with the ultimate skinny bundle. Even those that get close, like Hulu’s new entry, lack major channels ... in Hulu's case, those missing channels are (surprise!) those under the Viacom umbrella.

Point is, Viacom's $20 bundle is not the answer, but it's a start. Because once you start adding up separate channels and apps ($20 here, $10+ for Netflix, $15 for HBO Go, etc.), you’re dealing with additional hassle and nearly the same price point as before you started.

Consider the cord a bit frayed, if not fully cut.

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