The past week has been big for the TV business, and the once indivisible bundle of networks that come in pay-TV subscriptions has begun to unravel:

  • ESPN and the NBA hinted that they would launch a streaming service that viewers could subscribe to without a cable, satellite, or telco pay-TV subscription. 
  • HBO wasn't so subtle — They flat out announced they will launch a standalone HBO Go subscription in 2015.
  • CBS announced a new All Access product, offering current season series not available on other streaming services, plus a library of past episodes and shows.

Of these, CBS' is the most significant announcement. ESPN alluded that their service wouldn't be competitive with the games available on pay TV. HBO has already convinced 32 million households to pay them on top of their basic pay TV package, so the idea they can convince others to subscribe doesn't seem a stretch. And while this will not doubt rile their distribution partners, it's doubtful the distributors will black out HBO programming in retaliation. CBS, on the other hand, is in the basic pay TV package, is a staple of viewers' video entertainment, and has always been free to consumers — if they can make All Access work, it will embolden other networks to follow their lead. 

It will take more defections to fully dismantle the pay TV system that has stubbornly resisted change. Two questions will determine how fast or even whether the bundle will crumble: Will other programmers follow? Will consumers cut the cord — or shave their pay-TV subscriptions — when they subscribe to these new services?

If these changes happen, it unleashes a Pandora's box of questions for marketers: Does this further fragment the audience to the extent that it damages their ability to reach their audience? Or does it improve their ability to reach specific segments and reduce waste? Will these standalone services be able to build the size of audience that broadcast and cable deliver today? How will the audience be measured? Will the All Access viewers be rolled into C3 GRP buys? If not, how will they be sold? Leave me your thoughts and questions below or join my discussion board on the topic.

I've been talking with my colleagues James McQuivey and Luca Paderni about a deeper analysis and forecast of this trend. So watch for more from us in the next few weeks!