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A La Carte’s Still Pie in the Sky

The growing popularity of “skinny bundles” and slimmer video packages may lead one day to true a la carte for pay TV customers, but not before navigation, pricing and the quality of available content improves.

Smaller video packages from Verizon, Sling TV and others have dominated the news over the past several months, offering what competitors say is an alternative to the bloated and expensive video offerings from cable operators.

Evolution Digital co-founder, president and chief technology officer Brent Smith said on a panel at the Next TV Summit that oftentimes traditional pay TV operators are prevented from offering skinny bundles because of their existing programming contracts. But as new deals are negotiated, that could change.

“You may see where cable operators will be able to do things a little more creatively,” Smith said.

Skinny bundles have been criticized as not representing much of a savings and lacking popular channels. While Sling TV offers 23 channels for $20 per month (and five-channel genre add-on packages for $5 per month), others can charge much more for much less, senior vice president and chief product officer Ben Weinberger said.

Skinny bundles are generally a defensive move, Vindicia senior vice president of worldwide field operations Kris Nagel said. Though consumers are frustrated about the lack of true a la carte, creating bundles aligned to specific user preferences might work better, he added.

“A complete free-for-all will fail from a consumer perspective,” Nagel said. “They need some assistance through that process.”

Navigation also is key, Smith added. “It used to be ‘57 channels and nothing’s on;’ now it’s ‘3,000 channels and I can’t find anything.’”