Next TV: Navigation Main Barrier to A La Carte

The growing popularity of “skinny bundles” and slimmer video packages may lead one day to true ala carte for pay TV customers, but not before navigation, pricing and the quality of content available improves, according to a panel session at the Multichannel News/B&C Next TV Summit event in San Francisco.   

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 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.

But skinny bundle providers have been criticized that their packages don’t represent much of a savings and they lack more popular channels. Sling TV senior vice president and chief product officer Ben Weinberger said  that while Sling TV offers 23 channels for $20 per month (and groups of five-channel genre packages for an extra $5 monthly), other services can charge much more for much less.

“If you were to think of what it would mean to create total true ala carte offering, and you take the things you really want, all of a sudden you end up with something that is $30 [per month],” Weinberger said, adding that isn’t any better than a basic cable subscription.

Vindicia senior vice president of worldwide field operations Kris Nagel said he believes that skinny bundles are generally a defensive move, adding that while consumers are frustrated about the lack of a true ala carte option, what may work better is creating bundles aligned to specific users’ preferences.

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

Navigation also is key, Smith added. With the proliferation of subscription video on demand services and online content offerings, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find what you want to watch.

“It used to be ‘57 channels and nothing’s on,’ now it’s ‘3,000 channels and I can’t find anything,’” Smith said.