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Week In Review: AMC Makes Some Moves, Roku And Amazon Play Hardball

1. AMC Makes Some Moves

AMC Networks made two key moves last week, both related to Comcast. 

On the ad front, they joined up with the Comcast-Cox-Charter run On Addressability initiative which will allow advertisers to buy addressable ads on AMC via Canoe, which uses the set top box data from the aforementioned MVPDs. 

On the programming front, they launched two new SVOD services, the uniquely named AMC Plus and WEtv Plus, both currently only available to Comcast subscribers. AMC Plus replaces their existing AMC Premiere app and adds in programming from IFC and Sundance, all of it ad-free. 

Why It Matters

The ad play matters because linear addressable is getting more and more real. We already have Project OAR and Nielsen using ad insertion via smart TVs for those networks that don’t want to work with MVPDs to place addressable ads. AMC, which is more reliant on its relationship with big MVPDs, has chosen to work with them, which is a plus for On Addressability. 

Addressable, linear addressable in particular, is hot right now due to the pandemic: with different regions shifting between opening up and locking down over the next year, advertisers want to be able to send their ads to the right targets and that is something that can be handled via an addressable buy, particularly one that allows advertisers to send different creative to different geos in something close to real time. While that is easily accomplished with any sort of OTT or VOD play, it’s much tougher on linear, where millions of people are watching at the same time, hence the excitement about new ways to accomplish this.

The content play is interesting in that AMC, which is one of the largest independent network groups, is choosing to work via Comcast and other MVPDs (Premiere is currently available via around 400 MVPDs and the assumption is they will all soon be on board with the switch to Plus.) 

This both encourages AMC viewers to stay with the MVPDs while also allowing AMC to avoid having to deal with Roku and Amazon and their onerous restrictions on SVOD services. (More on that in Part 2.)

What You Need To Do About It

If you’re watching all this unfold like we are, then you need to keep an eye on what type of inventory AMC is making available for On Addressability: is it prime time “Better Call Saul” or is it 2AM reruns? 

If you’re AMC, you might want to approach some of the bigger smart TV OEMs like Samsung, VIZIO and LG about getting your app on their platforms. All three have been making strides in improving their interfaces and provide an alternative to Fire TV and Roku.

If you’re an advertiser and you’re worried about how to reach different regions with different messages, then On Addressability is definitely one piece of your plan. A small piece right now, but given that you are going to have to put your addressable plan together like a jigsaw puzzle, so even small pieces matter.

2. Roku And Amazon Play Hardball

So we’re close to three weeks out and AT&T still has not struck a deal with Amazon or Roku for HBO Max.

That means that around two-thirds (maybe more, streaming stats are all still pretty much guesswork at this point) of OTT viewers can’t get the app.

Not “can’t subscribe to it” but “can’t even download it.”

And now we have word that Comcast’s Peacock may be facing the same issues, as no deals have been struck with either service.

Why It Matters

Amazon and Roku want to put these new Flixes into their Channel Store systems, which each have a single interface via Prime and the Roku Channel, respectively.

That means that viewers are likely to skip the actual app and just view the programming through the “channel” app.

But more than that, it means that Roku and Amazon control all the valuable viewing data (even more valuable if you’re running advertising on your Flix), and take large chunks of the subscriber fees and ad revenue to boot. 

In addition to those negatives, Flixes lose brand loyalty, as viewers are often unaware of which programs are from which services, a serious issue when there are so many new major SVOD services launching all at once.

On the flip side, Amazon and Roku do a really good job at making subscribing seamless and of reducing churn, plus many viewers seem to prefer the all-in-one interface versus flitting from app to app.

But mostly Amazon and Roku control the bulk of the OTT market and if viewers can’t find your app on either service, then odds are they’re not going to spend a lot of time and effort trying to track it down.

Apple has been much friendlier to the new Flixes, but Apple TV’s market share is minute, due to, among other things, the fact that their device is priced 6X that of similar Amazon and Roku devices. And while Apple controls most of the mobile market, somewhere between 80% and 90% of OTT is watched on an actual TV set and Apple’s AirPlay software to move content from mobile devices to TV sets is quirky at best and not particularly well known either.

So there’s all that. 

Which basically boils down to the fact that in the new Pay TV World Order, Roku and Amazon are playing the role of MVPDs and right now they hold all the cards, especially because none of the new Flixes have any new programming of the sort that consumers might be annoyed not to be able to watch.

What You Need To Do About It

 If you’re AT&T and Comcast, you’re in a tough situation: it doesn’t make sense to acquiesce to the demand that you put your Flixes onto the Channel Stores. But without any original programming to drive demand–and with so much competition right now and so little distinction between what all of the various Flixes have on offer–you might want to think about striking a short term deal so that viewers can actually download the app and subscribe to it, lest you wind up like Quibi.

An ad campaign that promotes the value of watching your service via the native app could go a long way to ameliorate that acquiescence too.

If you’re Roku and Amazon, you might want to stand firm. Right now you hold all the cards and you might as well take advantage of it. At least right now when consumers don’t seem to be blaming you for any of this.

If you’re Samsung, VIZIO and LG, this is a good time to promote the fact that you have greatly improved your interfaces and that if AT&T and Comcast are looking for a home for their apps, you’re it. (AT&T and Comcast take notice.) 

If either Max or Peacock has programming that people really want to watch and/or realize they are already entitled to via their Now or MVPD subscription, the ability to watch Max (or Peacock) via their smart TV OEM’s interface could be a real game changer.