Editor's Corner—Time Warner’s rapid SVOD release rate is either fragmenting the market, or giving customers what they want

Time Warner Center. Image courtesy of Time Warner, Inc.
Ben Munson

Time Warner is fast becoming the media company to beat in terms of the pace at which it is launching new SVOD services. But is the media giant’s growing SVOD empire creating the a la carte TV landscape so many have envisioned, or another fragmented TV experience?

With the recent announcement that Warner Bros. will soon be releasing a DC Comics direct-to-consumer product, Time Warner now has in place quite a stable of SVODs. HBO Now, FilmStruck, Warner Archive, Boomerang, DramaFever, and now DC. That’s six in all, and Time Warner has promised that services for both TNT and TBS are on the way.

Turner CEO John Martin believes it’s crucial his company be ready to meet the consumer outside of the confines of the traditional TV bundle.

"I believe it’s imperative that we put the company on a course, to be in a position, to offer an end-to-end solution, direct-to-consumer,” Martin told Recode.

Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes also likes the direct-to-consumer path Turner, Warner Bros. and HBO are on.

“These are great examples of how we're investing in both high quality content as well as in the technology and new capabilities to make sure we get that content to consumers wherever and whenever they want,” said Bewkes during Wednesday’s earnings call. But looking at this strategy from the outside has led some to question whether Time Warner’s rapid-fire delivery of SVOD services is creating a chaotic environment for customers.

In a series of tweets that have since been deleted, Matthew Ball, head of strategy at Amazon Studios, seemingly called out Time Warner for focusing more on having a high volume of SVOD services and less on creating a customer-friendly experience.

“This is what happens when every P&L says ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we had a major SVOD service’ and corporate isn’t customer first,” wrote Ball.

Amazon tweet

Independent media analyst Alan Wolk doesn’t believe Time Warner has pursued its current SVOD strategy without consideration for the customer. But he admitted there is perhaps an ulterior motive for media companies like Time Warner releasing SVODs, in that it provides more one-to-one customer data than programmers get via a pay-TV provider relationship.

But Wolk said that if the high volume of SVODs hitting the market is causing fragmentation, the fault doesn’t rest solely with media companies. It’s more an overall industry problem stemming from the fact that there is no real option yet for providing a unified search and discovery experience for all the disparate apps and services.

Of course, video fragmentation was an issue long before Time Warner kick-started its current slate of direct-to-consumer services, and it will likely continue to be a problem after other media companies start to catch up.

And that may be the cross to bear for consumers who want a la carte TV, a segment of the population that is growing. According to TiVo’s Digitalsmiths, a fourth quarter study revealed 76.6% of respondents would like to pay for only the channels they watch—up 3% year-over-year.

If those people want to break away from the neatly organized but pricey channel guides of pay TV, companies like Time Warner seem fully prepared to offer them all sorts of piecemeal options for building their own bundle. But those customers will have to deal with a little chaos, at least for the time being.—Ben | @fiercebrdcstng