A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
This year the TV industry’s upfront week is also “streaming week.”
At the same time that America’s biggest media companies are touting their new dramas and sitcoms, they are also talking up their plans for streaming platforms that will look a lot like Netflix.
On Monday Comcast’s NBCUniversal hyped its forthcoming service. And on Wednesday morning AT&T’s WarnerMedia (the parent company of CNN) did the same thing.
CBS will be sharing updates on its service, CBS All Access, later in the day on Wednesday.
Each streaming service is in a different phase of development. Each company’s strategy is distinct. Each price point is different. Frankly it’s all pretty confusing, and it will continue to be confusing for the next couple of years. But the upshot for consumers is clear: More streaming services are coming, and they’re going to cost you.
In the past, Netflix has resembled an all-you-can-eat buffet. But some of Netflix’s biggest suppliers — such as Comcast and Disney — are opening their own restaurants. Let me stretch the analogy a bit further: The future looks more like a food court. If you want a bite of each, you’ll have to pay separately for each, albeit with some exceptions.
Here’s what is happening
— Disney+ launches in November. WarnerMedia’s service launches in beta form in late 2019, with a full launch in early 2020. NBC’s service launches in 2020.
— On Tuesday morning Disney and Comcast announced a complex deal that will give Disney full control of Hulu right away and will unwind Comcast’s stake in the years to come. This means the days of Hulu as a joint venture are officially over. Every network is on its own now. But NBC’s exit from Hulu will happen slowly, so users won’t notice any sudden changes.
— Disney CEO Bob Iger spoke at MoffettNathanson’s investor conference on Tuesday and said “we’re not purposely trying to do anything to damage the bundle, because it still has a lot of value,” but “we’re prepared to pivot in a new direction.”
— Speaking of the bundle, CNBC’s Alex Sherman published some new details about how NBCU’s service will work: The free version will require a cable or satellite log-in. The paid version, “likely around $10 per month,” will include lots of library content, like reruns of past seasons. So the service will clearly favor customers who stay subscribed to the cable bundle…
— AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson spoke about WarnerMedia’s plans at a J.P. Morgan investor conference. He promoted the Warner Bros. collection of shows and movies and said, “We will be bringing a lot of these media rights, licensing rights, back to ourselves to put on our own SVOD product, video-on-demand product.” This is similar to NBC’s talk about bringing shows “home…”
— Stephenson also talked about supporting the existing cable bundle: “If you’re a Comcast subscriber and you acquire HBO, you will get this capability with your HBO subscription on Comcast.” Over time, he said, John Stankey and Bob Greenblatt’s as-yet-unnamed streaming service will be AT&T’s “key video product…”
— The takeaway from all this? Peter Kafka summed it up: “While today it’s pretty easy to find most of TV’s biggest hits by subscribing to Netflix and Hulu, in a few years, many of those shows will be scattered to rival services: If you want everything, you’ll need to get Netflix and Hulu and NBCUniversal’s thing and AT&T’s thing and Disney’s other streaming service.”
With ads or without ads?
Netflix is ad-free, of course, and Hulu has a popular ad-free version.
But Comcast and AT&T are highlighting the fact that advertisers are welcome. WarnerMedia’s unnamed streaming service “will have an ad-supported component,” CEO John Stankey said Wednesday morning.
The biggest news from ABC’s upfront
ABC picked up “its smallest slate of new shows in recent memory,” THR’s Daniel Fienberg wrote. TVLine has all the new show trailers here…
Brian Lowry writes: “Disney put all its TV assets under one umbrella, in what was clearly designed to be an “Avengers Assemble” moment. “Brands matter more than ever. And we have the best,” said Kevin Mayer, chairman of direct-to-consumer and international, introducing a presentation that perhaps inevitably ballooned to well over two hours, and proceeded to rifle through ESPN, FX, National Geographic and Freeform before getting to ABC. The length aside, it felt like a somewhat more polished version of what NBCU has been doing the last few years, and at the risk of referencing a rival comic-book franchise, had a “Kneel before Zod” quality in terms of showcasing the studio’s collective reach, which was surely the intention.”
Kimmel inks new deal with ABC…
Frank Pallotta writes: Jimmy Kimmel’s new contract with ABC will keep him as host of “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” for the next three seasons, taking him through his 20th season. More here…
…And then skewers his bosses
Frank adds: One of the best parts of upfronts week every year is watching Kimmel lampoon his bosses and the rest of the TV world at the ABC upfront. This year was no different. Here are some of the most biting and hilarious things he said:
— “I can’t believe Channing [Dungey] left for Netflix. Who does she think she is? Our viewers?”
— “What a year! Roseanne is gone, and measles are back.”
— “Remember last year when you guys gave Leslie Moonves a standing ovation? That was funny. Whoops!”
— “Poor Fox. They have nothing left. Fox is now the network equivalent of a divorced dad’s refrigerator.”
— “NBC has ‘This Is Us,’ which is so popular that it was renewed for three seasons. Or as Constance Wu would call it, ‘a death sentence.'”
Constance Wu’s not going anywhere
Sandra Gonzalez emails: Constance Wu is not in danger of losing her job on “Fresh Off the Boat,” according to ABC president Karey Burke. The exec said at a Tuesday morning Q&A with reporters that she’s choosing “to believe Constance’s most recent communication about the show — that she’s happy to return” and that there have been no conversations about recasting the role.
→ Brian Lowry notes that at the actual presentation later in the day, Burke, when introducing “Fresh Off the Boat,” added, “still starring Constance Wu.” It got a big laugh…
No more host for the Oscars?
Sandra Gonzalez emails: The aforementioned Karey Burke seemed to imply that the Oscars might go hostless once again. Touting its strong numbers and creative direction, she said, “I think you will see us not messing with that formula to the best of our abilities.” My translation: Let’s all hope the Academy doesn’t mess with it. (Burke added later, “I’m not saying no to anything at this point” as The Academy won’t make decisions about the ceremony “until later in the year…”)
Frank Pallotta writes: First it was Turner Sports, then Fox Sports and now it’s ESPN’s turn. Sports media is betting big on sports gambling. ESPN announced on Tuesday that it is partnering with Caesars Entertainment to build a new ESPN-branded studio at its LINQ Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
Former ESPNer Darren Rovell, now with the betting-focused Action Network, called it a “watershed moment.” He tweeted, “I remember when they wouldn’t let us reference team names (only city names) whenever I referred to odds, concerned about how the leagues would react. Times have changed.” Read on…