INTX 2015: Pay TV Forecast Calls for More Skinny Bundles

Panelists say linear channels are 'challenged,' stress need for 'diplomatic finesse'
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With news of slimmed-down pay-TV offerings from Verizon and others continuing to reverberate at INTX, a trio of seasoned execs offered predictions confirming long-held speculation: More skinny offerings are on the way.

"I think you're going to see more experimentation around this from programmers as well as operators. It's in all of our best interest not to lose customers," said Kathy Payne, senior VP and chief programming officer of Suddenlink during late-Tuesday panel session "Thin to Win: Choice, Change & the Rise of Skinny Bundles."

Citing company survey findings, she added that market forces, especially OTT offerings, are making "people say, 'Gosh, why am I paying this much to my cable operator when I have other choices?' So we have to be nimble."

Conversation and open diplomatic channels are key, the panelists agreed. Verizon's bold move was preceded by virtually "no conversation" with programmers, said Tonia O'Connor, president of content development and corporate business development for Univision. "That was a head-scratcher for us because we're more than happy to work with our partners to understand what the best option is for the consumer."

Given the expectation of more OTT services, including some from traditional players (a la CBS All Access or HBO Now), O'Connor added ominously, "The launch of new linear channels as we know them today, there's probably not a real future there."

Mike Biard, distribution president for Fox Networks, declined to directly address his company's legal fight with Verizon over its skinny bundle when asked by panel moderator Mark Robichaux, editorial director of NewBay Media's TV Group.

Later, though, he took issue with Verizon's "touting" of a Nielsen study that found pay TV subscribers watch no more than 10 channels. While that notion "gets repeated ad-nauseum," Biard said, "our research doesn't back it up. What we hear from third parties doesn't back it up. The idea that people have different tastes is absolutely true. But those tastes can cross over to a lot of different channels."

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