Discovery Communications (DISCA - Get Report), like many media companies that license a package of networks to pay-TV operators, may be forced to break up its full slate of channels that it wants to be included in the " skinny bundles" that are a chief attraction of new streaming video services.
But in order to gain placement on new offerings such Dish's (DISH - Get Report) Sling TV and Sony's (SNE) PlayStation, Discovery has had to reconsider how best to reach new customers without weakening the value of its channels for pay-TV operators.
At a March 10 investor conference hosted by Deutsche Bank, Discovery finance chief Andrew Warren said his company wants to avoid jeopardizing its business model when it engages with the popular networks that are aiming for wide delivery of channels to niche audiences.
Nonetheless, Joseph Abruzzo, executive vice president of Havas Media North America, said in a phone interview, "Discovery should do everything they can to participate in this skinny bundle trend to hedge against the idea of cord-cutting with other avenues of distribution,"
Added Abruzzo: "There's an opportunity on the ad-revenue side and there's an opportunity on the [content] sampling side."
U.S. television viewers subscribe on average to about 189 channels even though they watch merely about 17 channels, according to Nielsen. Consumers have long clamored for cheaper, slimmed-down options yet only recently have the economics behind online distribution made sense.
At present, Discovery is not yet part of Sling TV, which launched in January and offers 16 channels including Disney's (DIS) ESPN, AMC Networks' (AMCX) AMC and Time Warner's TNT. Sling TV provides Internet streaming on devices like Roku or smartphones for $20 a month without consumers' having to sign a contract. Conspicuously absent from Sling TV are the channels of major broadcasters such as Comcast's NBC and CBS (CBS).
Sony's newly launched PlayStation Vue, a $50-per-month bundle that some have dubbed a "medium bundle," will include Discovery's full fleet of channels. Apple (AAPL - Get Report) is said to be in talks with Discovery among others to release a similar TV-streaming service next fall.
A lot is at stake with the arrival of the skinny bundle, an effort by media companies to reach consumers in the roughly 10 million U.S. households with high-speed Internet but who have so far chosen to not subscribe to a pay-TV service. Missing out on the skinny-bundle trend would cost Discovery substantial revenue opportunities.
"Discovery has been one of the laggards to get started in this," Martin Pyykkonen, a media analyst at Rosenblatt Securities, said in a phone interview. "But I definitely think Discovery will be a part of it. Skinny bundles are rapidly evolving."
Over the past 12 months, Discovery shares have lost 25%; they were priced at $32.55 at Monday's market close.