Charter Finally Goes Full Monty on OTT

Launches ‘Spectrum Essentials’ in-footprint OTT skinny bundle without broadcast, sports channels
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After delivering several IP-based skinny bundles over its managed network in the past several years, Charter Communications is finally going Full Monty with over-the-top distribution.

When it launches later this spring, the $14.99 Charter Spectrum Essentials package will feature more than 60 networks — an entertainment-only bundle with no broadcast networks, heavy on Viacom channels and priced and packageed similarly to AT&T’s recently launched WatchTV and Viacom’s just-acquired Philo.

Notably, Essentials won’t be a nationally distributed virtual multichannel video programming distributor (MVPD). While it’s delivered over the open internet, even to folks who get their broadband from a provider not named Spectrum, it will only be available within the Charter footprint. Charter’s base of broadband-only homes continues to grow: It finished 2018 with around 16.1 million video subscribers but over 23.6 million high-speed internet subscribers.

Charter chairman and CEO Tom Rutledge

Charter chairman and CEO Tom Rutledge

“As we began to assemble the rights for this new video service, we received great enthusiasm and encouragement from these key programming partners, who share our view and embrace creating an innovative video offering we believe will resonate with our internet customers,” Charter chairman and CEO Tom Rutledge said in a statement. “Notably, Viacom shared its strong belief and research that suggests there is a large, untapped opportunity for a low-priced, entertainment-only bundle unencumbered by the high cost of broadcast retransmission-consent fees and expensive sports programming.”

Essentials will launch with A&E, AMC, Animal Planet, BBC America, Discovery, Hallmark Channel, History, Lifetime, Travel Channel and OWN, along with Viacom networks including BET, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon and TV Land, among the more popular services. And starting in May, it will be home to Spectrum Originals, the fledgling original programming studio launched by Charter last year.

The Essentials app will support a wide range of popular streaming devices, including Apple and Android mobile devices, Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Samsung smart TVs and Xbox One. It’s also usable via web browser at SpectrumTV.com.

Essentials is one of several live-streamed skinny bundled iterations Charter has either tested or launched in recent years.

In the fall of 2015, Charter began testing Spectrum TV Stream. Starting at $12.99 per month, this initial version of a Charter streaming service was delivered to the operator’s broadband subscribers over a managed network to Roku 3 streaming players, providing access to broadcast channels and premium cable networks.

In 2017, the cable operator introduced a new iteration of Spectrum TV Stream that’s still with us today — a $19.95-a-month service that offered Charter broadband users more than 25 channels, including the four major local TV broadcast feeds, plus PBS, CNN, Bravo, A&E, Discovery Network, FX, AMC, History and E!.

Last year, Charter introduced Spectrum TV Choice, another managed-network-only streaming service that delivers users the four major broadcast locals and lets them choose 10 cable networks from a menu of 65, for around $26 a month.

“We believe most people prefer a large and robust video offering such as our Spectrum’s Select, Silver or Gold packages,” Charter spokesman Justin Venech said in an email. ”That said, we want to sell video to all our customers and have been offering various smaller, lower priced packages that may appeal to our internet-only subscribers.”

As for Viacom’s involvement in Charter’s latest streaming launch, some might question why the media conglomerate would help build a live-streaming service that looks so similar in bundle to Pluto TV, the one it just paid $340 million for. But Viacom’s priority these days seems to be making its networks available on any and all platforms that aren’t named Netflix.

“We’re thrilled to expand and deepen our relationship with Charter,” Viacom CEO Bob Bakish said. “They share both our commitment to the evolution of the the pay TV ecosystem as well as our understanding of the changing needs of consumers.”

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