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The Upcoming Flixification Of Network TV

Buried a few paragraphs down in most of the stories about the increased likelihood of CBS and Viacom merging this summer, was a little tidbit about how, once the Viacom deal is complete, CBS will likely buy Discovery.

And once that happens, well, what else is there?

With the exception of Fox, the entire TV ecosystem will be Flixed: ABC, NBC, CBS, Viacom, Warner and Discovery.

(Yes, there will still be a couple of additional outliers like AMC and A+E. But does anyone even know what they stand for anymore, what shows they’re running? I thought not.)

This transition raises a much bigger question though: what does TV look like an a Flixified world?

The Same But Different

On the one hand, there’s the possibility of recreating the traditional “platinum” bundle, just a better version of it.

You can get all the networks you were used to getting, only with lots more original programming and everything on demand. It wouldn’t be crazy expensive either: even if the price of all eight of the major Flixes (and we’re including Hulu, Netflix, Amazon and Apple into the mix) averaged out to $15/month each, that would only cost $120/month. Which is still a little less than what MVPDs charge for their ultrapremium bundles, the ones with 1000 channel options, plus HBO, Cinemax, Showtime and Starz.

What you’d get as a consumer would be pretty amazing though: thousands of shows, available whenever you wanted from all the networks you watch, plus premium cable (HBO, Showtime et al) and Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. There would still likely be linear schedules, but once it had aired, you’d be able to watch any show you wanted, whenever and wherever you wanted, and you’d have access to everything in the various Flixes libraries, most of which should prove to be remarkably deep.

What Happens To Fox?

In a world where everything but Fox is available via an OTT app, the pressure will be great for Fox to launch one of its own, too.

Post-Disney, Fox is down to just the Fox Broadcasting Company (FBC) and Fox News. The latter has its own OTT app, FoxNation, and while the app currently functions more like a highlights reel, it’s not too hard to see Fox lighting it up for linear.

Fox News has a strong fan base and while the average age of their viewers is 65, I suspect that if everyone else starts to abandon traditional pay TV, they’ll want to be part of that new world order too.

Similarly, FBC has some great shows and a strong fan base too, but like Fox News, it’s unlikely those fans will want to be the last ones standing while everyone else shifts to the Flixes.

As for Fox, we’re thinking they’re smart enough to see the writing on the wall, so the fact that they are likely to be the last major network group without an OTT app will not come as a surprise and they already have a Plan B in place.

The Local Dilemma

The real issue in this new Flixified world is what happens to local broadcast stations? Will the broadcast networks just start showing their linear morning and prime time feeds on their OTT apps, cutting away for local versions of the network news? There are legal reasons that might not happen, but if retrans fees seem to be drying up, that might convince them to take their chances in court.

Local broadcasters can fight back by creating their own (free) apps and/or by taking advantage of the new over the air standard ATSC 3.0. They’ll need to figure out what they are showing though—will the broadcast networks keep their programming for themselves and pull out of/decide not to renew their agreements with local stations? Our guess is both sides will try and find some sort of middle ground, with local stations serving as a local ad sales resource for the Flixified networks, while providing local news as well.

+Sports

Sports is the other part of the local dilemma—all those RSNs that fans will be loathe to give up, many of which are now owned by local broadcasting giant Sinclair. The RSNs will keep traditional cable bundles going for a while, but we suspect that soon enough Sinclair and others will either opt to sell them to viewers a la carte or sell them to one of the bigger, more deep-pocketed Flixes if the price is right.

Addressable Ads All Around

In an all Flix world, addressable advertising will be the norm, rather than the exception, as digital OTT delivery will remove any technology stumbling blocks and each Flix (and the networks therein) will finally have that coveted first party data on their viewers.

Given the disjointed way that OTT advertising is currently sold (as highlighted in our sometimes humorous, always informative, very reasonably priced Special Report on Ad-Supported OTT) there will be much pressure on the industry to make the process easier for agencies and brands and to agree upon some sort of common measurement currency that everyone can transact off of.

Oh Right, The Viewers

This is not going to be an overnight change for the folks at home—old habits die hard—but at the same time, the realization that 90% of the programming they watch is now available via some sort of Flix is likely going to have people dropping traditional pay TV packages sooner than later. Look for device manufacturers like Roku, Amazon and Apple to offer them Flix bundles, but truth is, consumers really won’t see it as a dramatic change—they’ll still be watching the same shows on the same networks and platforms—it’s just how they watch it that will be different.

FASTS Give Birth To Indies

The thought of just eight billion-dollar companies controlling the entire TV ecosystem, especially its creative output, is a bit troubling, as it seems to roll back all the innovations of the past decade.

That’s why we expect a new round of indie-film style innovation to come from a somewhat unlikely place—the FASTS, or free ad-supported streaming TV services.

Because they don’t need to charge subscription fees (a much higher bar to entry), these services will be able to take more risks, giving younger and/or more niche talent a place to call home, in the hopes that that talent might be able to produce a hit. For advertisers, it will be a way to reach trendsetters and early adopters, the people they’re not reaching on the more mainstream Flixes.

While none of this is certain—CBS hasn’t bought Viacom yet, let alone Discovery—it does seen to be on the up side of likely.

If it does happen, look for greater, faster changes to the TV industry, as traditional business models get stood on their respective heads.

WINNERS: Big networks, broadband providers, consumers, RSNs

LOSERS: Smaller unaffiliated cable networks, especially those without strong brand identities, local broadcast stations, MVPDs that don’t have a strong broadband revenue stream, sports fans