Another day, another set of announcements that seem to herald the end of cable TV.
But Wednesday’s news that the NFL would finally live-stream a game and that Showtime would be available as a streaming service through Apple only highlight that some aspects of the cable-TV model are not going to die easily.
Yahoo said it would live-stream an NFL matchup between the Buffalo Bills and the Jacksonville Jaguars this October, a baby step by a sports league that has resisted plunging into online video. And Showtime announced that it would offer a stand-alone service through Apple for $10.99 a month, priced lower than the $14.99 service announced earlier this year by rival HBO.
The deals are the latest examples of change as the entertainment industry scrambles to serve new audiences — young viewers who want to watch on mobile devices, and older viewers who want to scrap bloated and expensive cable contracts.
All that change is making the overall picture fuzzier for the consumer, though, as a confusing array of options and costs seems to grow more complicated every day.
Apple is a prime example. It has been trying to offer more than individual streaming channels such as Showtime; it is said to be pursuing a “slim bundle” of channels at a low price that could bury the traditional cable package once and for all.
In fact, a streaming Apple TV service was the biggest news anticipated for next week’s World Wide Developer Conference, the annual event where Apple hosts developers who make apps for its devices. But Apple wasn’t able to bring the product together in time, finding it too hard to marry technology and balky content providers, according to several people familiar with the plan.
Instead, Apple plans to unveil a $10-a-month streaming music service through its recent acquisition of Beats, aimed at competing with Spotify and Pandora.
Apple’s deal with Showtime and its earlier HBO offering show the tricky balance the company is trying to strike: They offer consumers the choice they say they want, but at a combined $36, aren’t much more economical than those multi-hundred-channel cable bundles.
“What Apple is trying to do will be a game changer but the cable networks won’t give a price break,” said Brad Adgate, an analyst at Horizon Media. “And why should they? They are publicly traded companies and they aren’t looking to make any less money online than in cable.”
Apple, Dish Network, and Sony now find themselves caught in the same complicated economics of television that led to bloated bundles of hundreds of cable channels that rise in price each year. Media companies often insist on selling as many programs as possible and are putting strict rules on how their shows are distributed.
It took many months for Dish chief executive Charlie Ergen to persuade Walt Disney’s Bob Iger to bring Disney’s ESPN to the streaming SlingTV app. Even then, Disney put a cap on how many subscribers it would allow for the streaming service.
Sony’s streaming service, Vue, includes six major media partners such as Viacom, Discovery, Scripps and NBC Universal, but with all those networks and their huge catalogues of shows the monthly price of $70 is close to a monthly cable bill.
Analysts say Apple has more of a shot at breaking the model — its reach is so vast and its reputation with consumers is strong, which make it an appealing partner for broadcast and cable networks.
Executives at two cable networks say Apple is very close to finishing negotiations for a streaming service that will include broadcast networks, live local programs and key cable networks such as ESPN. The service will likely be announced in months, but won’t be available to consumers before the start of the fall TV season.
One hang-up has been the ability to secure deals for local programming. The big networks don’t always own local owned and operated TV stations. Apple also has hit snags in using a technology to bring those local broadcast signals into their streaming service.
In an interview at the Code tech conference late last month, CBS chief Leslie Moonves said he was close to reaching a deal with Apple and was excited about the prospects of its streaming slim bundle of channels. But the main sticking point was “money.”
“Apple TV is trying to change the universe,” Moonves said at the conference. He said he believed CBS deserved a bigger portion of revenue from “skinny bundles” than it gets from cable packages.