Today's OTT Marketplace: Skinny Bundles Feed Bloated Appetites

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Our video intake has gotten excessive. We’re bloated and overfed, and it’s time to go on a diet. It’s time for skinny bundles.

American viewers are now getting everything they’ve ever wanted, and that’s too much of a good thing. Sure, we had massive cable packages before the online video boom started, but most of those 500 channels were home shopping, low-budget reality shows, and ancient reruns. You needed 500 channels just to find one decent option.

That’s not the case anymore. We started by adding Netflix, which we keep around more and more just for the originals. Netflix’s movie lineup is nothing to cheer about, so it’s a good thing we’re hooked on the Underwood’s machinations, the cast at Litchfield Penitentiary, and Marvel’s Hell’s Kitchen heroes.

Then we added Amazon Prime. We picked it up for the free 2-day shipping, but the video is a nice bonus. It gives us something to watch when we’re out of Netflix originals. If only Transparent came out more often. Yeah, the movie catalog is weak, but combined with the shipping it works out. Plus, it offers offline viewing, something we’ll try one of these days.

Next came Sling TV. At just $20 a month, it’s almost an impulse purchase. Its terrible user interface is now slightly less terrible than it used to be.

And don’t forget about the apps, which keep popping up like mushrooms after a spring rain. Now that Nielsen is able to measure set-top box viewing, the major broadcasters have a reason to make their premium shows available through apps. Suddenly there’s a lot of good on-demand content. If you missed out on last night’s Quantico, you can call it up from an app. Sure, you’ll watch the same irritating commercial in every ad break (didn’t we all agree that was a bad practice?), but you can watch the show whenever you want. Those network apps require authentication, which means keeping a cable or satellite subscription. That’s okay, we didn’t really want to dump it, anyway. We thought we did, back when cord cutting was a hot new fad, but that was before we realized how long it is between seasons of Transparent.

When you total it all up, it’s more than enough to fill our short evening hours. But wait, you want a premium movie channel or two, don’t you? Sure, HBO’s movie lineup is the worst, but you’ve got to know what the Lannisters are plotting. Tack on a few online movie rentals for when you want to see a recent release that actually got decent reviews.

We now have everything we wanted, which is everything on every device. Now we see that we don’t have time to watch it. Plus, all those little bills add up. Suddenly, we’re paying a fortune for our home entertainment.

This is the perfect time, then, for the skinny bundle. The cable companies have proven adept at reading the writing on the wall, and they know that if they don’t give us lower-priced bundles, we might stop our subscriptions altogether. Anyway, they’re making so much selling us 4K-capable internet that they don’t mind a few people shaving their service.

How many people have downgraded to a skinny plan so far? Not many. I talked to Carl Hibbert, associate director of media and entertainment research with Futuresource Consulting, and learned his company surveyed viewers in December 2015 to ask if they expected to still have their same pay TV service in a year. Of the respondents, 10 percent said they would remove packages, but another 10 percent said they would add packages. Hibbert believes the skinny shift will plateau at around 15 percent of all pay TV customers.

That’s not many. What about our bloated TV consumption? How are we going to cut out the fat and keep a lean viewing diet? We’re not. We’re going to continue on our course and overindulge—it’s the American way.

This article appears in the April/May 2016 issue of Streaming Media magazine as "Skinny Bundles, Bloated Appetites."

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