Broadband Cable Association of Pennsylvania


May 16, 2013

At least two pay TV operators, including cable giant Time Warner Cable Inc., are weighing an investment in Hulu as the online video site considers a range of strategic options, according to people familiar with the matter. It isn't clear how much Time Warner Cable is willing to pay and whether it is considering purchasing a minority stake in the site or an all-out acquisition. Hulu's current owners don't see the cable operator as the most likely buyer at the valuation it has signaled it would do the deal, one of the people familiar with the matter said. The identity of the other pay-TV operator isn't known. Major pay-TV distributors have made a push in recent years to offer online TV through their "TV Everywhere" strategy, under which cable content is made available online only to pay TV subscribers. A link-up with Hulu, which carries content from broadcast networks including Fox, ABC, and NBC, could allow cable and satellite TV providers to greatly expand their initiatives.

One top cable executive said that it would make sense for several pay-TV operators to join together to make one nationally branded platform for TV Everywhere services, instead of the multiple online services pay TV distributors and media companies now offer. Hulu is jointly owned by Fox network-parent News Corp, ABC network-parent Walt Disney Co. and NBC-parent Comcast Corp. For regulatory reasons Comcast can't vote its stake. News Corp and Disney have been at odds about the strategic direction for Hulu, and more recently the companies have been considering selling the site. Another option is for News Corp. or Disney to buy the other out. Former News Corp. President Peter Chernin's investment group has made an offer for Hulu, people familiar with the matter say. In addition, investment firm Guggenheim Partners, whose digital media unit is run by veteran media executive Ross Levinsohn, has shown interest in the site. Yahoo Inc. also kicked the tires at Hulu, people familiar with the situation say. News Corp. also owns the Wall Street Journal.

Hulu's value to potential buyers rests in the current-season content it gets from its owners. One question for would-be buyers is how long the site will have the rights to that programming. The shorter the timeframe the owners are willing to license out their content for, the smaller the check potential buyers will be willing to write. At a presentation to advertisers last month in New York, Hulu said it had surpassed four million subscribers to its Hulu Plus subscription service for the quarter ended March 31. The company said it had generated revenue of nearly $700 million in 2012. Hulu is competing for viewer attention with other streaming TV services, including much larger rival Netflix Inc., which said it had nearly 28 million paid streaming subscribers in the U.S. at the end of March, roughly on par with Time Warner Inc.'s premium pay TV channel HBO. Wall Street Journal

Those among us dreaming of gigabit internet in our homes and offices were given hope when Google started rolling out its own fiber-optic cables in Kansas City last year, trialing the Google Fiber service that it plans to expand to Austin and elsewhere. But for now, dreams remain the most common way we're likely to experience the super-fast connections offered by fiber coming directly to houses. Google's experiment is limited, and the big cable companies aren't planning on a massive rollout of the expensive technology anytime soon. But if gigabit internet makes it to your home, you'll often have Google to thank - even if the search giant isn't the one rolling out the fiber. That's because competing providers are likely to "piggyback" on the regulatory precedent the company is setting in Kansas, Austin and elsewhere, AT&T's CEO Randall L. Stephenson said today.

What's the precedent? One big challenge in rolling out new fiber networks is that plenty of customers wouldn't want to pay for them, and are happy with what they're getting right now. That's a problem, because the work needed in bringing a new cable down every street and to every house doesn't make sense if only a small percentage of houses decide to subscribe to the newer, faster service. But one way to get around this is targeted roll outs: only sending the fiber through neighborhoods where a high proportion of residents and businesses are likely to sign up for them. That kind of investment makes a lot of sense, Mr. Stephenson said in a JPMorgan conference presentation today, even though the company faces some "regulatory constraints" in doing what he called "very targeted builds." People tend to be unhappy when it seems a company - especially a big, regulated one - seems to be offering better service in one neighborhood than the other.

Here's what Mr. Stephenson had to say about the prospects for these kind of targeted roll outs, and how they have improved thanks to the Google precedent: "There are some neighborhoods that if you could be very targeted and go in and deploy fiber to the home, the business case on this is very, very good and the adoption rate when you go in and deploy this is very, very high. And so Austin is one of those where Google went in and made an announcement they're going into Austin similar to what they're doing in Kansas City. And so we actually think that's a positive thing because on those same terms and conditions, we would love to do the same in Austin. And so we will probably piggyback on the rules and terms and conditions that Google received in Austin and do our own build in Austin. And the business case is actually a very good business case. I think you're going to see that begin to manifest itself around the United States and not just AT&T and Google. You will see others doing this because the demand for really high-speed broadband via gigabit-type fiber-based solutions on a targeted basis is going to be very, very high." Fingers crossed... Wall Street Journal

Several television companies have announced deals with Twitter Inc. in recent weeks, looking to take advantage of the popularity of tweeting while watching shows. But not all TV companies believe tying up with the social-media site is such a great idea.

Comcast Corp.'s USA Network on Thursday will unveil a rebuilt Web and mobile platform that will bring more of the real-time conversation about USA shows happening on Twitter, Facebook Inc. and other social-media outlets onto its own site. The cable network's plan is to surround those social-media conversations with its own content and sell ads to run alongside it. The move highlights the increasingly complex relationship between Twitter and TV channels as social-media content about TV shows proliferates. Each side has an interest in controlling the conversation and the potential advertising dollars that it can generate.

Jesse Redniss, senior vice president of digital at USA Network, said social conversations about TV aren't all happening on Twitter. "We think that Twitter is a big component of the conversation around TV, but we also know that real-time conversation about TV is happening on our own platforms," he said. For example, as many as 30,000 people at a time use USA's "Character Chatter" platform to comment on a show while it is on the air, he said. The new USA website will expand USA's social capabilities, curating the conversation on the Web about USA shows. Advertisers will be able to place ads on the TV screen and digital platform simultaneously. "Our approach really is using Twitter to help funnel people into a much larger, more welcoming community-and one that we can monetize," Mr. Redniss said.

The USA site is the latest in a string of "second screen" platforms created by television companies that seek to increase viewers' engagement in their shows. Other cable channels, from Bravo to MTV to TBS, have launched apps with similar social capabilities in recent years. The social-media element of mobile apps from TV companies is still very much "a work in progress," according to Greg Ireland, an analyst at IDC, a market intelligence firm. Indeed, the most successful existing TV apps such as HBO Go and WatchESPN don't yet integrate social conversations significantly. But TV networks are increasingly taking the plunge, many of them through advertising deals with Twitter, including BBC America, The Weather Channel, and ESPN.

Mr. Redniss, who says he values Twitter as an important partner, believes these deals may be shortsighted, given Twitter's apparent ambition to become a content hub of its own. He said Twitter is "kind of encroaching" on TV networks' relationship with fans of their shows. "For us, as a major media company, we have all the content. We have the community," he said. "We want advertisers to be able to come to us and say the best experience around this show is going to be on USA's properties." So far, at least, Twitter doesn't see TV networks' proprietary social platforms as a challenge. The company declined to comment on USA's platform, but when asked in general about competition from such platforms in an interview earlier this week, Glenn Brown, Twitter's director of promoted content and sponsorships, said: "The fact that we have 95% of the public conversation around television supports the fact that we are the de facto second screen. What our partners do is completely up to them." Wall Street Journal