There’s a widely accepted notion that the future of television will stand on the shoulders of something called “The Great Rebundling.” The premise is that the current crop of MVPDs and other media behemoths will reassert their dominance as the exclusive purveyors of taste by offering slick, pared-back bundles to replace the old school bundles no one seems to want any more.
Though it’s an interesting idea, I’m not entirely convinced it’s the best path forward. It’s not so much the bundle I question, it’s the lack of vision that has resulted in The Great Rebundling being considered a fait accompli.
The bundle was—and still is—a remarkably effective content discovery tool and a good economic value proposition when measured by cost-per-hour viewed.
Many of today’s best-known media brands started as niche channels nestled deep within an increasingly crowded line-up. Brands such as CNN, The Food Network, Animal Planet, and Comedy Central all were once considered mere curiosities by many—and openly mocked by others.
It was a system in which everyone was a winner. Cable operators won because more content meant more value for customers, more advertising dollars, and less churn.
Media companies won because they could leverage a diverse slate of channels against a reliable and growing viewer base (no customer acquisition required).
Best of all, consumers won because we were constantly discovering new things. They might be things we didn’t know we wanted or would never have subscribed to if someone tried to sell them to us.
But when we let serendipity take over and stumbled on them by accident, we suddenly wondered how we ever managed to live without them.
In those days, the power to create bundles was wielded by the cable operators. They owned the means of distribution, so they made the calls. The bundles were big—cable was sold on the range of options it offered viewers who had only recently been constrained to just three channels—so everyone was happy. Operators had more and more channels to offer, network groups had more places they could run ads, and consumers had more and more choices.
The balance of power has shifted, however, as we move into a new era of distribution. And who gets to create the bundles that define this new era is definitely up in the air.
It’s Anyone’s Bundle Now
True innovation means being unafraid to challenge the status quo in the service of doing what’s best for the consumer while still managing to grow revenue or, even better, creating new sources of revenue.
Creating new sources of revenue is the tricky part.
Invariably it means cannibalizing existing, often highly lucrative, revenue streams. That’s the case right now for the major cable networks whose success was built on the notion that consumers just wanted more options and more channels.
Real innovation needs to create value for all parties in the ecosystem. The original bundles did that—they benefited the content owners (TV networks) as much as they did the distributors (cable companies) by allowing them to make millions by increasing the number of eyeballs that would see the ads they ran, and by providing them with multiple outlets on which to run those ads.
But times have changed. Competition for an audience’s attention comes in many forms, most of which is beyond any single company’s control. Consumers are in the driver’s seat now - but they’ll need help making sense of it all.
This is why I’m not entirely convinced that the old guard’s vision for “The Great Rebundling”—with each company competing for control of an audience that has choices—is ultimately going to yield results that benefit either the consumer or the content owners. To me it seems less like innovation—and more like a war of attrition where a “Rocky vs. Creed” bloodbath is the likely outcome.
In the next installment, I’ll explain how we got here and our plan to help consumers and content owners find a way out of it.
Raffi Bagdasarian is the founder & CEO at Paket Media, a platform focused on solving streaming media’s fragmentation and discovery problem, for both consumers and service providers. Prior to founding Paket, Bagdasarian held posts at Sony Pictures Television as VP of product development & digital networks operations and at Wonder as head of business operations. Wonder was acquired by Atari, Inc. in early 2020.
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