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Cable Technology Feature Article

July 11, 2014

The Original Series Deluge: Can Premium Movie Channels Hold On?

By Bob Wallace, Founder, Fast Forward Thinking LLC

News this past week focused on the deluge of new and returning original series launching now and opportunities for advertisers. The big original series story, however, is what the future holds for one-time “movie channels” that are under attack by online streamers and are also competing with non-premium channels.

The days of premium channels holding long-standing supremacy with original programming may have already passed in some scenarios, with cable channels such as FX, AMC and TNT adding breadth-and-depth to their lineup. Online streamers Netflix and Amazon are doing exactly the same and with newer approaches.

Nobody’s arguing the huge success of HBO’s Game of Thrones or Showtime’s long-running pipeline of entries. Beyond viewing success, they have helped retain consumers during the devaluation of “new” movie debuts as these channels’ once-main draw.

That’s a life saver for these pay extra premium channels. But how long will it last with stiffening competition on multiple fronts?

Leveling the Playing Field

While there’s no easy answer to this core question, consider that those with traditional pay TV services from cablecos, telcos and satellite operators, can get a growing list of original series without having to pay extra for HBO, Starz, Showtime, The Movie Channel, Cinemax and more.

With Comcast (News - Alert), for example, you can get FX, AMC and TNT with the lower 80+ channel Digital Starter package instead of opting for premium movie channels only available in its two-steps up Digital Premier package - which comes with 190+ channels.

The cost-conscious TV viewer could then supplement their low end cable package with an online streamer or if they can do without live sports, use a Netflix, Amazon and/or Hulu (News - Alert) (among a fast-growing field of options) exclusively.

Image via Shutterstock.

Many TV viewers are completely content with Netflix expanding original series lineup that features House of Cards and Orange (News - Alert) is the New Black, each season of which is made available all at once to fuel another major phenomenon – binge viewing.


With this reality unfolding, it’s little surprise that HBO, for example has been providing Verizon FiOS (News - Alert) TV customers its channel (with on-demand) free for three months with at least part of the plan being to hook first-timers on Game of Thrones etc. and convince them to buy the channel when the promo ends.

This tactic has proven effective with the original series as the draw, but often far less interest in the channel’s other programming, such as movies and sports.

The premium movie channels have long held the high ground with original programming with HBO’s The Sopranos breaking and holding new ground many, many years ago. Showtime started the race early with Nurse Jackie, Dexter and Californication.

But non-premium channels such as FX were relatively quick learners and fast followers dating back to the series The Shield and Nip/Tuck, which have since been followed by Sons of Anarchy and Justified, with newer entries like The Americans and The Bridge added quickly to the lineup.

Going Forward -Beyond Quantity and Quality

At this point, the areas to compete on aren’t so much quantity and quality of original series, but rather on innovation. By that I mean doing things differently with the way you offer and deliver this highly-coveted programming.

Strategic Moves

Here are some possible actions for TV service providers carrying premium channels:

- Continue the months free promotions-  For pay TV provider channels such as HBO, synched to the beginning of your most popular offering (Game of Thrones - they work.

-Avoid serious viewer frustration by enabling to find ALL prior episodes of their original series favorites via video-on-demand (VoD). This is crucial because countless viewers don’t hear about and watch series-in-progress soon enough and want to catch up whether it’s one season or more.

Catchup opportunities and “watchathons”- These  are a big step in the right direction BUT need to be tailored to the availability of viewers, not pay-TV providers. Convenience is king.

-Embrace binge viewing. The same way Netflix started it - where all episodes of a new season are available on day one. This gives viewers maximum viewing flexibility of original series. With the quantity of original programming series continuing to rise, this makes even more sense as viewers are likely trying to keep pace with multiple series at once.

-Focused packaging. This may seem unrealistic, but what if TV service providers could create a tier or package (as is done with sports programming and foreign language content) that’s heavily loaded with original series? It would include series from multiple premium channels – or perhaps a mix of ones from premium and non-premium channel. Think programming based on content type or genre.

-Explore new technology. One example is higher resolution TV sets and other screens/monitors. Front and center is 4K resolution, ultra High Definition (TV) opportunities. The format provides double the resolution and four times the pixels (8 million to 2 million) of 1080p HD.

Though the movement is in its infancy/early toddler stage, Netflix has already shot season 2 of House of Cards in 4K and Amazon has partnered with four movie studios to stream their 4K content to subscribers. 4K/UHD is not the present but then innovation and advancement is about fast forward thinking to the future.

-Survey your customers (and not just once). You can’t necessarily give the people what they want if you are crystal clear on what that is. Though and endless amount of websites ask you to take quick surveys, this is an area that TV service providers lag on (unless it’s about your call to customer service).

Find out from your customers what they want to see, how they want to see it and throw in some items being explored for them to rate their interest in.

The Bottom Line

From a content perspective, original programming series represent a strategic battlefield for premium once movie-first channels, non-movie cable channels and online streamers. For consumers not interested in live sports, they represent the most coveted programming available today.

With that in mind, premium channels would be well advised not to stand pat on their quantity advantage and think forward to different ways, technologies and approaches to deliver their original programming series to increasingly cost-conscious viewers awash in lower priced alternatives.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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