Documentary Eco-system Snapshot: The Outlook for the Channels

The U.S. Pay TV distribution footprint is forecast to shrink by a record 2.5 million subscribers in Q2 2020.

  • This follows a previous record drop of 2 million subscribers in Q1 2020.
  • In the past 12 months, 6.5+ million customers have cut the cord.
  • The forecast loss for Full Year 2020 is 8-9 million subscribers.

Key Factors:

  • The appeal to consumers of the ‘all you can eat’ subscription services like Netflix.
  • Their compelling price/value proposition versus Pay TV subscriptions.
  • The rise of free AVOD — advertiser-supported — online services like Hulu.
  • And all this in the context of Great Depression-level unemployment and cutbacks in consumer spending.

P&L Impact

Networks are experiencing reductions across multiple rev streams alongside COVID-related pressures on costs.

  • The channels’ affiliate revenue is falling:
  • TV advertising spend is far below pre-COVID forecasts.
  • Meanwhile content creation will be more costly under pandemic guidelines.
  • And the networks’ programming offer is likely to be less compelling in the ‘content desert’ that will follow cancellation or ‘pause’ in productions that were scheduled for delivery in 2020-21.

Tech Platforms Dominate Legacy Media

  • COVID has boosted the valuations of the tech giants Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook.
  • ‘Legacy’ platforms including Disney, Viacom/CBS, Discovery and even Netflix are overshadowed by Big Tech, as captured in this chart by LightShed Partners:

Source: Lightshed Partners

More to come…

  • Big Tech has the access to capital to inflict further deep damage to the channels.
  • For example, there is speculation that Apple TV+, which has made little impact since its launch in November 2019, is considering making a post-COVID bid for the Sports rights that are anchors of the entire Broadcast and PayTV eco-systems.

Discovery

It still a surprise to see Discovery — so recently a content giant — register as a mere blimp on this chart of the market cap of its new competitive universe.

  • Discovery hasn’t found a buyer.
  • Its Direct-to-Consumer strategy is in disarray, marked by the sudden departure last week of global strategist, Peter Faricy.
  • I expect further deep headcount and programming cuts at Discovery.
  • Though Discovery’s bouquet of U.S. and international channels will remain among the major global buyers of documentary and factual programs for the foreseeable future.

A Big Win for Rosary-TV?

  • The Religious channel category earned a big bounce in viewing.
  • That’s a highlight from Dr John Morse‘s presentation on key trends in the ‘Twilight Zone‘, his phrase for media consumption in the COVID era.
  • Follow the Powerpoint and listen to John’s compelling analysis in last week’s podcast.