NATPE 2016: Is OTT Destined to Replicate the Cable Bundle?

Complete Coverage: NATPE 2016

The growing OTT marketplace increasingly resembles the linear TV space, for better and sometimes for worse, said panelists in the opening-day-capping NATPE session somewhat hazily titled "The Rise of New OTT Platforms."

Evan Shapiro, executive VP of digital enterprises at NBCUniversal and a longtime cable exec at Court TV, IFC and Pivot, said the consolidation in the cable operator landscape has created a need for only "six calls" to be placed in order for a network to secure carriage. "But in OTT, one of the things that a lot of people forget who are getting into the space is that affiliate relationship. You can't just put it online and hope people find it by Googling it or typing in the URL. You have to really make partnerships with Roku and Apple and Amazon and Google Chrome and all the next boxes that are going to come out and make sure that you're on these platforms."

Programming brings similar challenges, panelists told moderator David Freeman, CAA's co-head of digital talent and packaging.

Floris Bauer, cofounder and president of Gunpowder & Sky, a Chernin Group-backed venture announced last week also fronted by recent MTV escapee Van Toffler, said he has spent the last 10 years scrutinizing digital video to understand how it differs from linear delivery. "We want to avoid making television online," he said. Ben Relles, head of comedy and unscripted for YouTube, agreed, noting the rise of 360-degree and virtual reality content. When asked to forecast the next years of evolution, though, he emphasized the similarities. "You always hear people say, 'digital wants to be TV and TV wants to be digital' but it is actually coming together. ... Right now things come to my inbox, but it doesn't feel like we're that far off from there being no difference."

Creatively, there is certainly an objectively persuasive case, given the inroads of so many SVOD and OTT services in terms of award-caliber and universally recognized content considered the equal of linear and produced in 4K. Shapiro, as the panel wrapped, offered a provocative thought by applying the similarity to the business side, predicting bundling will come to the OTT space with accelerating speed. "We do better selling en masse, as cable learned before," he said. "You're going to see a consumer drive toward 'Can I get it all at one stop?' I don't have an answer to how that happens, but there are players out in the marketplace who are trying to make that happen and I think the sooner we get to a way the consumer can buy it all at once, it's going to help all of the platforms, especially the smaller ones."