Charter CEO: ‘Genre-Based Video Packaging the Way to Go’

With Charter Communications recently edging ahead of Comcast as the nation’s largest cable TV operator with more than 14.12 million subscribers, the Spectrum-branded service is aiming to target consumers with a one-stop linear/streaming video platform to reduce churn.

Chris Winfrey

Charter, which last year partnered with Comcast to launch Xumo, a one-stop cloud-based platform melding linear TV with ad-supported VOD and SVOD, also turned the legacy pay-TV industry on its ear by extracting direct Disney+ and ESPN+ streaming access for Spectrum TV subscribers.

“Making ESPN+ available to our TV Select Plus customers allows us to cater to sports fans’ evolving viewing habits with one high-value video package that includes the best of linear and direct-to-consumer sports content,” Charter said earlier this year in a statement.

Speaking last week at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference in San Francisco, Charter CEO Chris Winfrey was asked about the pending joint venture sports streaming app between Disney, Fox and Warner Bros. Discovery, and its impact on media distribution.

“What I interpreted from the announcement is that three of the largest programmers decided that genre-based packaging is the way to go — and when I look at that from a distributor standpoint, I actually agree with that,” Winfrey said.

The executive said that affording pay-TV subs with genre-based packaging, allowing for a-la-carte access to programming is “very consumer-friendly.”

Specifically, Xumo offers Spectrum subscribers the ability to integrate linear TV with SVOD and AVOD apps, including Disney+ and ESPN+, within an authenticated desktop modem, with unified search and discovery. The platform enables Charter to create programming packages with lower pricing distributed direct-to-consumer or as unified package offering.

“We can carry the direct-to-consumer apps … and we can package it all together with Xumo in a way that provides utility to our connectivity services,” Winfrey said. “We’re happy to distribute direct-to-consumer streaming video apps and we’re doing that as part of these [new carriage] deals.”

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Charter Loses 133,000 Q3 Pay-TV Subscribers

Charter Communications Oct. 29 announced that its Spectrum TV service lost 133,000 residential subscribers in the third quarter (ended Sept. 30). That compared with a gain of 77,000 pay-TV subs in the previous-year period. Charter ended the quarter with 15.3 million Spectrum subs — down from 15.7 million in the previous-year period.

The company added 243,000 high-speed internet subs, to end the quarter with 27.9 million subs. That compared with a gain of 494,000 broadband subs and 26.8 million overall in the previous-year period.

Charter was one of first multichannel video distributors to offer broadband-only subscribers with an online TV option — Spectrum TV Plus — that included a free Roku player.

“The value of our connectivity products allowed us to add over 1 million customer relationships over the last year,” CEO Tom Rutledge said in a statement. “Looking forward, we remain focused on improving both the quality and value of our products as demand for more advanced services
grows. As data usage both inside and outside the home continues to increase, so do our network and product capabilities.”

Charter Widens Spectrum Pay-TV Subscriber Losses

Charter Communication’s trend avoiding pay-TV subscriber contraction appears to be coming to an end. The Spectrum TV provider April 30 reported residential video customers decreased by 156,000 in the first quarter (ended March 31), compared with a decrease of 70,000 in the first quarter of 2020, and 152,000 in the first quarter of 2019. Charter ended Q1 with 15.5 million Spectrum residential video customers.

Charter, the No. 3 pay-TV operator in the country, in 2015 was one of the first operators to launch a broadband-only service — dubbed Spectrum TV Plus — that included a free Roku 3 player priced at $12.99 a month.

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“We continue to execute well in a market environment that has not yet returned to normal,” CEO Tom Rutledge said in a statement. “We added 355,000 Internet customers in the first quarter, and 2 million over the last year, for year-over-year growth of 7.3%.”

Charter ended the quarter with 29.2 million broadband subscribers.

Samsung TV Plus Bows 10 Free Spanish-Language Channels

In recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month, Samsung Oct. 7 announced the launch of 10 free Spanish-language channels on its Samsung TV Plus platform. The ad-supported platform offers free access to more than 145 content channels.

The Spanish-language channels include content ranging from telenovelas, reality shows, comedies, news, adventure shows to modern dramas. The content from Sony Canal, Estrella TV, Pluto TV, Tastmade and Spike, among others, is also available on the recently launched Samsung TV Plus mobile app for download on select Galaxy smartphones.

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“Samsung includes a broad cross-section of cultural perspectives in our entertainment and content, so it is only fitting that we [add] channels to our extensive collection of Samsung TV Plus programing,” Salek Brodsky, VP of strategic partnerships & business development for Samsung Electronics, said in a statement.

AVOD distribution continues to grow as an alternative to subscription streaming video services such as Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video.

Spectrum TV Plus Spanish-language channels include:

Estrella TV 1255: EstrellaTV is a leading Spanish-language news and entertainment channel with programming ranging from news to game shows, reality shows, talent competitions, and late-night talk shows.

Sony Canal Competencias 1259: The channel features contestants who aim to meet challenges in reality competition shows.

Sony Canal Comedias 1260: The channel features modern remakes in Spanish of TV’s most iconic sitcoms and comedy series, such as “Married With Children,” “The Nanny” and “I Dream of Jeannie.”

Sony Canal Novelas 1261: The channel features telenovelas and  dramas like Doña Bárbara, Paraíso Travel and Señorita Pólvora, filled with thrills, passion, twists and heartwarming stories.

Cine Romantico 1283: The channel features romance with Hollywood TV movies in Spanish.

Novelas Drama 1266: Pluto TV Novelas Drama features stories and situations full of intrigue, deception and mix-ups in drama soap operas of Latin America.

Novelas Romance 1267: Pluto TV Novelas Romance features stories of love and romance, watching the most romantic soap operas in Latin America. You won’t be able to stop watching it!

Spike Aventura 1268: The channel offers action and adventure to the most challenging competitions.

Estrella News: Estrella News is a 24/7 Spanish-language digital news channel, delivering relevant and breaking news stories and reports for Hispanics. Coverage includes local, national, entertainment and sports.

Tastemade en Español: Tastemade en Español’s diverse, ever-growing library of content spans the categories of food and travel with Spanish-language Tastemade Originals and series in English with Spanish subtitles. Programming highlights include food and travel series ArgenMexCook & Laucha 2X1Patagonia Viva, and the documentary Fuego, featuring Argentine chef and influencer Luciano ¨Laucha¨ Luchetti.

Charter Spectrum Loses 77,000 Q3 Video Subs; Ups Criticism of Shared Passwords

Charter Spectrum joined other pay-TV distributors reporting ongoing subscriber losses of traditional linear video entertainment in the home.

The company Oct. 25 said it lost 77,000 video subs in the third quarter, ended Sept. 30. That compared with a loss of 66,000 subs in the previous-year period.

The service has jettisoned 415,000 video subs in the past fiscal year, ending the period with 15.7 million.

Charter did add 351,000 broadband subscribers, underscoring ongoing consumer migration towards over-the-top video services such as Netflix and online TV. It added 266,000 high-speed Internet subs during the previous-year period.

The service ended the period with 24.5 million broadband subs, up from 23.3 million subs a year ago.

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With the onslaught of high-profile SVOD services from Disney and Apple, in addition to WarnerMedia early next year, CEO Tom Rutledge was asked about the growing industry concern regarding the sharing of user passwords among non-subscribers.

Without naming offending OTT services, Rutledge alluded to third-party streaming services affording simultaneous access to five separate users with no location-based security.

“I feel like I’m beating my head against the wall talking about privacy or piracy, password sharing and pricing, but they’re all inter-related issues,” Rutledge said on the fiscal call.

Charter CEO Tom Rutledge

He criticized content creators entering the distribution market seemingly indifferent to where their programming is going.

Indeed, Netflix, which has heretofore turned a blind eye toward password sharing, has begun looking into the practice.

“It has not been part of their DNA [worrying about it],” Rutledge said. “Most households in the United States have two or less people in them. And as a result of that, there are more streams available [for free] than there are households.”

The executive contends that until there is increased scrutiny on video access in and out of the home on a single account, “it’s just too easy to get the product without paying for it.”

“When we look at data consumption, we can see that video consumption isn’t going down even when people disconnect their paid video,” Rutledge said. “And as a result of that, it makes the [subscription] price value relationship really difficult when it’s free.”

Separately, Rutledge said Spectrum was considering partnering with Comcast’s Flex SVOD service for broadband-only subscribers.

Charter several years ago bowed Spectrum TV Plus, a $12.99 monthly online TV service for its broadband-only subs. The service included a free Roku player.

In 2018, the service was changed to $14.99 Spectrum TV Plus. Last year Charter unveiled “TV Essentials,” a $15 monthly “skinny bundle” option for pay-TV subs.

“We have a significant number of app based relationships that we’ve developed on multiple devices, and that strategy is working for us,” Rutledge said. “And putting inexpensive devices out with your service makes some sense to us.”

PlayStation Vue Adds Local Fox, ABC TV Stations

Sony’s online TV service PlayStation Vue has added 16 local television stations to its channel portfolio, including Fox and ABC affiliates.

With most online TV services such as Sling TV, Fubo TV, DirecTV Now, YouTube TV, Hulu with Live TV and Spectrum TV Plus offering the same pay-TV channels 00 including premium channels HBO and Showtime, Starz and Cinemax – increasing points of differentiation involve featuring local TV stations.

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New ABC stations on Vue include: WATM ABC 23 in Altoona & State College, Pa.; KYUR Anchorage, Juneau, Fairbanks, Alaska; WTEN News 10 in Capital District, NY; WAOW ABC 9 in Central Wisconsin; WCTI ABC 12 in Coastal North Carolina; WOAY in Eastern West Virginia; KAEF ABC 23 in Eureka, Calif.; KTXS 12 in Midwest Texas; KBMY 17 in Minot-Bismarck Area; KRCR ABC 7 in Northern California; WBND ABC 57 in South Bend, Elkhart, Ind.; WTXL ABC 27 in Tallahassee, Fla. And KTKA in Topeka, Kan.

Fox stations include: WZAW in Central Wisconsin; WVFX Fox 10 in Clarksburg, WVa., and KIIT Fox 11 in North Platte, Neb.

Charter Spectrum Softens Q3 Video Sub Loss

Charter Communications Oct. 26 disclosed it lost 66,000 video subscribers in the third quarter, ended Sept. 30, and improvement from 104,000 video subs lost in the previous-year period.

The nation’s third largest pay-TV operator (after acquiring Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks) attributed the reduction to sales of standalone online TV service Spectrum TV Streamand Spectrum TV Choicevideo packages. It ended the period, however, with 16.1 million video subs – down 258,000 subs from 16.39 million reported last year.

“At the end of 2018, our integration of legacy TWC and Bright House will be largely complete, and we will operate as a single company, with a superior product and value proposition,” CEO Tom Rutledge said in a statement.“With significantly less customer-facing change in 2019, we expect continued improving service metrics with higher demand and retention, faster growth and falling capital intensity, driving meaningful free cash flow growth.”

Indeed, Charter added more than 1 million high-speed broadband customers in the past 12-month period, ending the quarter (266,000 net additions) with 23.3 million.

Parks: OTT Video Adoption Growing Among Pay-TV Cord Cutters

With Comcast and Verizon this week reporting ongoing declines in traditional pay-TV subscribers, new data from Parks Associates shows that consumer perception of a poor value proposition in pay-TV remains the top trigger for changing, downgrading, or cancelling services.

Among households that have made pay-TV changes in past 12 months, one-third of cord cutters (33%) and 10% of switchers or cord shavers plan to use paid OTT services as a substitute or alternative for pay-TV.

In addition to subscription streaming VOD services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu, online TV services include Sling TV, Playstation Vue, DirecTV Now, Pluto TV, Fubo TV, YouTube TV, Hulu with Live TV and Spectrum TV Plus, among others.

“The primary driver for pay-TV cancellation and downgrades continues to revolve around pricing and perceived value,” Brett Sappington, senior director, research, said in a statement. “While some consumers consciously plan to use OTT video services to address the absence of pay-TV content, most consider each offering on its own merits.”

Sappington said the “deeper issue” is in the influence OTT video is having on what consumers consider to be a good value. When video services with good quality are available for under $15, it forces operators to justify an $80 pay-TV bill.

Indeed, consumer Katie O’Shea from Travelers Rest, SC, said she plans to switch to $35 DirecTV Now as soon as she can get out of her $200 DirecTV contract – the latter including broadband service.

“I have 400 channels, most of which I don’t watch or even know what they are,” said O’Shea.


Online TV Services Added 868,000 Subs in Q2

Online TV services such as Sling TV, DirecTV Now, Philo TV and PlayStation Vue added a combined 868,000 subscribers in the second quarter, bringing the total number of virtual MVPD subs to 6.73 million, up 119% year-over-year, according to new data from Strategy Analytics.

Despite this, overall pay TV subs (cable, satellite, telecom and online TV) fell to 93.78 million, breaking a string of two consecutive quarters of growth, according to the report that examines the subscriber bases of 27 public traded and private pay TV operators, accounting for 97% of all pay TV subscriptions.

“While the entire [online TV] segment is growing, AT&T’s DirecTV Now deserves special notice given how rapidly it has grown in a fairly short period of time,” Michael Goodman, director, television and media strategies, said in a statement. “If it continues on its current growth trajectory it will overtake Sling TV as the largest vMVPD in early 2019.”

In comparison, 2Q was not particularly kind to legacy pay TV providers as they lost nearly as many subscribers (973,000) as the prior two quarters combined (-1.16 million). In the quarter, total legacy pay TV subscriptions fell to 87.05 million, down 3.6% from the previous-year period.

“Historically, pay TV in the U.S. has consisted of cable, satellite, and IPTV; however, the introduction of over-the-top pay TV services, commonly referred to as vMVPDs, necessitates a change in our thinking,” said Goodman. “What we have commonly referred to as pay TV (cable, satellite, and IPTV) should now be referred to as Legacy Pay TV, while the definition of Pay TV should include vMVPDs.”

Sling TV Subscriber Growth Slowing

Dish Network Aug.3 reported that its pioneering online TV service, Sling TV, ended the second quarter (ended June 30) with 2.344 million subscribers – marginally more than the 2.3 million subs reported at the end of Q1.

The satellite TV operator launched Sling TV in 2015 as the first standalone online TV service, and first platform offering access to premium TV channels outside of the traditional linear bundle, including ESPN.

The market now includes Sony PlayStation Vue, DirecTV Now, YouTube TV, Philo TV, Spectrum TV Plus, Hulu Live TV, Fubo TV and AT&T’s WatchTV.

Dish said it added 41,000 Sling TV subs in the Q2, down from about 91,000 sub additions in Q1. The company closed Q2 with 10.653 million Dish TV subs. When combined with Sling TV, Dish ended the period with 12.997 million total pay-TV subs compared to 13.332 million pay-TV subs in the previous-year period.

Indeed, Dish lost 335,000 net subscribers in the period compared to 196,000 subs in the last year’s period. Lone improvement: annual monthly churn rate dropped to 1.46% versus 1.83% for second quarter 2017.