Bad Sling TV deal shows Viacom's vulnerability, analyst says

BTIG Research analyst Richard Greenfield is continuing his campaign to push Viacom into recombining with CBS, this time calling out Viacom's new deal with Dish Network's Sling TV. 

In a blog post published Tuesday, Greenfield said the inclusion of only one Viacom channel, Comedy Central, on the Sling TV $20-a-month basic tier has made him rethink the notion that Viacom got the better end of its carriage renewal deal with Dish Network (NASDAQ: DISH) last month. 

On Monday, Dish announced that of a dozen Viacom networks added to its IP-based Sling TV service, only Comedy Central would join the main single-stream offering. 

"Sling TV's new single-stream and multi-stream packaging suggests Viacom is quite vulnerable to the cable network carriage risks posed by 'skinny' bundles and the unbundling trend in general," Greenfield said. 

"Within Sling TV's primary single-stream service (Sling base package channel comparisons embedded to the right), Viacom was only able to get "one" single channel into the base bundle offering: Comedy Central.  In the new, Sling multi-stream beta service, Viacom was only able to get three networks, Comedy Central, Nick Jr. and BET into the base bundle offering. Most of the Viacom networks were tiered including Kids (Teen Nick, Nicktoons, and Boomerang) or Comedy Plus (CMT, MTV, MTV2, Spike, TV Land, and LOGO), each costing $5/month. Notably, Nickelodeon is absent from Sling entirely."

Greenfield said Dish was willing to endure "cost pain" on the licensing of Viacom networks for its core satellite platforms in order to ensure flexibility for programming Sling TV.

"The cost to Dish of gaining packaging flexibility for Sling was full satellite carriage of Viacom's networks at mid-single digit rate increases," he said. "Viacom's strategy may work in the short-term as the overwhelming majority of subscribers are on the legacy satellite platform. But as Dish improves the price/value of the Sling offering, it shows the long-term risk inherent in Viacom's core cable network business model."

Greenfield noted that Disney, Time Warner, A&E, Scripps, and AMC were able to get multiple channels into Sling's original single-stream platform.

"And even more importantly," he added, "they achieved distribution for their highest priced channels. Contrast that to Viacom that was only able to get Comedy Central into the base bundle of Sling. Even in multi-stream, the bulk of Viacom's affiliate fee generating channels are not represented in the base offering."

With Viacom enduring a tense power struggle at the top between Sumner Redstone and Philippe Dauman, Greenfield went on to assail Viacom's broader market position … and strongly suggest that the company recombine with CBS Corp. 

The provocative Greenfield has drawn criticism himself recently. Not only has Disney cut him off following his downgrade of the company's stock in December, pointy-headed media pundit Michael Wolff recently penned a takedown of the analyst in The Hollywood Reporter

For more:
- read this BTIG Research blog post

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