Last week’s Bloomberg report that Dish Network is in talks with Viacom and other content providers about an Internet TV service made perfect sense from the point of view of Dish. Web video is monopolizing more TV screen time, pay-TV subscriber growth is slowing, and Dish’s programming costs are skyrocketing. As a satellite-based provider, Dish has no broadband plant of its own with which to monetize consumers’ embrace of over-the-top video sources.
Viacom’s involvement in the talks, however, was a bit of a surprise. As a pure-play provider of multiple cable networks, few companies have benefited from the traditional pay-TV bundle than has Viacom. So why would it be talking to Dish about a service that could go a long way toward unraveling the traditional bundle?
Third-quarter ratings for Viacom’s flagship networks could provide one clue. MTV suffered a brutal 43 percent drop in prime time ratings in the 18-49 demo, while Comedy Central was off 22 percent. Nickelodeon was down 25 percent among adults and 23 percent among kids.
Some of the fall off is attributable to Viacom’s nine-day standoff with DirecTV, which cost the networks 20 million subscribers for part of the quarter. But the DirecTV blackout can’t account for all of the decline.
One bad quarter does not a trend make. But over-the-top video to the TV has made prime time more competitive than ever. And even the biggest networks may be finding their position not quite as unassailable as they thought. What more reason would they need to consider all other options for licensing their content and getting it in front of viewers.