Talks to include CBS in Hulu's subscription-based pay-TV service, a so-called "skinny-bundle," broke down over price, said a source close to the discussions. While CBS CEO Leslie Moonves never tires of saying that his flagship network is "must-have" television, Hulu won't include a channel that has long boasted of being the "most-watched" on the dial.
CBS wouldn't comment on Hulu's online cable-TV service, and a representative for Hulu couldn't be immediately reached.
That's a stark contrast with Hulu's newest co-owner Time Warner, which last month took a 10% stake in the company for $583 million, joining previous co-owners Disney (DIS) - Get Report, 21st Century Fox(FOXA) - Get Report and Comcast(CMCSA) - Get Report , owner of NBCUniversal.
Speaking at Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference on Wednesday, Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes said he views Hulu's new pay-TV platform, expected to be debut in the first quarter of 2017, as yet another means to distribute his company's cable-TV networks, including TBS, TNT and CNN. Hulu is expected to continue to operate its video-on-demand service.
"We liked the asset and we liked the way it fit into our multi-prong strategy for helping new distribution get started," Bewkes said. "We really wanted to continue to support as much innovation in consumer offerings, and as much robustness and the capability in these different platforms as we could."
On the standalone side, Time Warner launched HBO NOW a year ago, creating a $14.99 per month online replica of the pay-TV version of HBO, long the most popular premium channel on cable and satellite. At the end of 2015, subscribers to HBO NOW numbered 800,000. Bewkes wouldn't give an updated number, saying only that growth at the online platfom is "going very nicely."
Time Warner has also entered into so-called carriage agreements with major video operators in Asia, including China's Tencent Holdings (TCTZF) .
21st Century Fox's networks are also on Sling and PlayStation Vue though it has yet to launch standalone subscription-based digital services. Hulu, Fox CEO James Murdoch said on Wednesday, can be particularly profitable because it will allow its owners more ways to sell advertising.
"Hulu is the most attractive place for us from a digital advertising perspective right now in terms of yields, pricing, low ad loads, the opportunity to innovate with new ad products and we think that's very exciting," Murdoch said at the Goldman Sachs investor conference.
Media companies are increasingly experimenting with "skinny bundles" and subscription-based online offerings as more consumers, especially Millennials, increasingly look for alternatives to the traditional 150-channel cable-TV bundle.
The advent of new video platforms come as a study by media consultants Magid Advisors released this week showed that so-called cord-cutting is accelerating, especially among Millennials. The Magid survey showed that some 5.7% of respondents 18 to 64 said they were "very likely" to discontinue their cable-TV or satellite subscription comapred to 3.8% in 2016 and 1.9% in 2011.
And indeed, subscribers to Time Warner's cable networks are falling at a rate close to 2%, Bewkes said.
CBS, conversely, has taken a somewhat different approach.
Moonves has the company on more of a go-it-alone path for the company's crown jewel, its broadcast network, which still ranks first in overall television ratings even within an ever-fragmenting video universe. Most recently, its season premiere of "Bull" on Tuesday generated 15.5 million viewers, giving CBS first place for the evening among the key demographic of viewers 18 to 49, the company said.
Though CBS has said it is open to being included in "skinny bundles," Moonves made clear this week that he isn't going to have his flagship network included in online pay-TV platforms unless he's paid a fee equivalent to what he sees as fair value for the country's top-ranked network.
"You can have a bundle, skinny or fat, without CBS, if you don't want to have the NFL or the NCAA Tournament or if you like [Stephen] Colbert or [James] Corden or you want see to '60 Minutes,' you sort of have to buy us," Moonves said Tuesday at the Goldman Sachs conference. "We have to be part of that package."
To be sure, CBS is investing in digital platforms. Its CBS All Access offering ($5.99 per month with commercials, $9.99 per month without) has attracted one million subscribers in the two years since it was launched, offering up previous seasons of current and older shows and live viewing of the network -- except for most live sports.
Additionally, CBS's Showtime Now, its own replica of the premium pay-TV channel, has also attracted about one million subscribers and recently expanded to Canada, the U.K. and Spain.
Yet CBS is staying clear of skinny bundles. At least for now.