According to the Diffusion Group, the unbundling of cable TV packages will accelerate over the next five years, with all major TV networks launching standalone direct-to-consumer (DTC) streaming services by 2022.
"Big media companies are reacting more boldly to changes in TV viewing behavior," said Mike Berkley, TDG senior advisor. "Consolidating, bulking up on originals, and marketing directly to consumers are driving their strategic direction."
The industry first flirted with DTC models three years ago when HBO and CBS launched the industry's first standalone subscription services. Today, both brands have five million paying DTC subscribers. As well, Disney is set to launch its ESPN Plus DTC product, and plans to roll a Disney-branded DTC service in early 2019 featuring animated films and Marvel and Star Wars titles, among other high-value content. This is timed to the expiration of its contract with Netflix.
"These are early signs of an emerging media tribalism," said Berkley. "Major networks will increasingly reserve their best titles for their own direct-to-consumer services, which will help drive total network DTC subscriptions close to 50 million by 2022."
Berkley said, however, that DTC strategies come with great risk, especially for TV networks. "The legacy model is built upon decades of comfortable relationships between networks and operators. If networks extract too much high-value content too quickly, channel conflicts are inevitable."