New Bundle, Same Principle

Cable-like bundled services may let us stream everything we want

I’ll say this about cable: it was easy. One subscription gave you every channel you could want. Now, everything is scattered across dozens of streaming services. Selection came at the expense of convenience. Some people say a streaming version of the cable bundle could solve everything. This week, let’s see what streaming bundles could look like.

In this issue:

  • What cable did right

  • Copying that with streaming isn’t likely

  • App platforms offer some convenience

  • The future could lie in the past

    Cable Co, someone still loves you!

    Ok, that header might go too far, but cable did offer convenience. Like I said up top, one basic cable subscription let you watch your local stations and dozens of cable channels, and paying a little (or a lot) extra put hundreds of channels at your command.

    We almost had something similar with streaming. For a little while, there was a good chance that any good streamable content was on Netflix. Then the studios got wise and pulled their content libraries behind their own paywalls. Now, getting all the shows your family wants means subscribing to a live TV streamer and three, four, or a dozen on-demand services. We end up paying as much as we did before, but without the convenience.

    Doing the same with streaming doesn’t add up

    We talked a little bit about bundles before, and how they differ from something like hubs. We can call cable’s original model a hard bundle. It packages every content source into a single service with one subscription and one interface. That worked because the cable companies controlled TV distribution. They had something the networks could never have — the subscriber relationships.

    Amazon Prime Video Channels are the closest you’ll find to that model. Consumers choose their content sources, pay Amazon the monthly fee, and watch their shows in Amazon’s apps. Although Amazon Channels provide cable-like convenience, it doesn’t add up. You’re paying full price for every provider in your bundle. A true hard bundle should be cheaper than a-la-cartè billing e.g. the Disney bundle.

    That won’t happen with on-demand streamers. Netflix and Disney won’t give up revenue to be part of a bundled service when they can go directly to the consumer. The Disney bundle only exists because Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+ are all owned by Disney.

    The app model doesn’t work either

    The app-based model of Google TV and Apple TV is a kind of soft bundle. You manage your streaming subscriptions through their billing services. Their interfaces give you unified watch lists, recommendations, and notifications.

    What they don’t give you is a unified interface for streaming your content. You launch the Disney+ app to watch one show and then launch the Peacock app to watch another. It’s a good model for streaming companies because they can track customers and get ad revenue along with subscriptions. But these soft bundles aren’t that great for consumers — we still pay full price for every subscription.

    Will streamers be their own bundles?

    A third model for bundles is for streaming providers to carry more content from other sources. The framework is already built into their apps. Disney+ lets you go straight to content from Marvel Studios, National Geographic, or the traditional Disney studios. The soon-to-be-launched Max will do the same for HBO, HGTV, and other Warner Bros. Discovery studios.

    Aggregating in-house and external content into similar collections is a logical next step. Max could offer a romcom collection, for example, that combines Warner content like You’ve Got Mail with Hallmark content like, well, pretty much anything on Hallmark.

    Our takeaway: Streaming will look like the 1970s TV

    If pundits are right about the streaming business heading towards consolidation, that third model could be in our future. Already, major studios are less precious about keeping content in-house when they could make more money licensing it to other streaming services.

    As consumers cut back on the number of streaming subscriptions we pay for, the winners will be companies with high subscriber counts and low turnover. They’ll have advantages similar to the old cable companies, able to bundle more content than their second-tier competitors.

    A decade from now, a few smaller streamers will hang on but we’ll mostly watch content bundled by 3-4 major providers. This isn’t even the cable model. It’s a return to yesteryear’s network TV.

    The Watchlist

    The second part of Titans S4 swings onto HBO Max, today, April 13th.

    Want to try some new wines that suit your specific tastes? Bright Cellars has all the flavors and aromas you could want in a nice, tall glass after a long day. Get $100 off your subscription when you sign up!*

    The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s 5th and final season jokes its way onto Amazon Prime Video, Friday, April 14th.

    Blindspotting is back for another season, airing on Starz, Friday, April 14th.

    A Black Lady Sketch Show giggles into its 4th season, coming to Showtime Saturday, April 15th.

    Barry gives us his final performance in the show’s final season, airing on HBO Max, Sunday, April 16th.

    Our favorite rangers reunite once more in Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once & Always, dropping onto Netflix, Wednesday, April 19th.

    *Indicates sponsored link.

    How did you feel about this issue of the Stream Report?

    Login or Subscribe to participate in polls.

    Join the conversation

    or to participate.