WealthTV on Roku... a shot heard round the pay-TV world? Maybe so

Jim O'NeillWealthTV is a niche cable channel that reaches some 11 million U.S. homes. It isn't exactly a heavyweight in the pay-TV industry. In fact, it's only one-fifth the size of Discovery's own niche channel, FitTV, which reaches 50 million homes. Consumers complain it doesn't have enough content to make it worthwhile, and it's tended to be overlooked by channel-strapped MSOs looking to shave niche offerings of their own (WealthTV has a long-standing, ongoing brouhaha with Comcast, Cox, Time Warner Cable and Bright House over carriage issues).

But its decision to launch a subscription channel on OTT player Roku's set-top box is an interesting move, giving owners of the box the (arguably thin) opportunity to subscribe to it for $2.99 a month. WealthTV will supply Roku with 24/7 live streaming of its programming, it also will provide VOD.

It's an a la carte offering on an over-the-top box... and one that even comes complete with a lineup of commercials. The cable channel isn't, as it would seem from its name, a celebration of the lifestyles of the rich and famous. It actually focuses on "wealth" in terms of the good life: travel, food, shopping and the like. The Roku forum already is alive with viewers talking about it, a pretty mixed bag of comments that range from "worth a look" to "worst channel ever."

But, really, at the moment, that's beside the point. Who watches WealthTV, or even how many of the 11 million homes it gets into ever turns it on, is moot. It's a beachhead for the over-the-top forces and, narrow as it may be, battles have been won with less.

While Roku isn't on the record that more cable fare is on the way, one response to a poster on the forum that says: "I'd like to see more 24/7 channels. Anybody know of any coming to Roku?" responds, simply "Yes. And that's all the detail we're giving out today."

While the programming that WealthTV is putting OTT won't make anyone in the pay-TV industry lose sleep, the fact that a cable channel is providing it may be enough to cause a few industry execs to toss and turn a little bit more. Industry exec after industry exec has shot down the concept of a la carte, saying consumers would find it too expensive, too cumbersome and too hard to manage.

I think that, down the road apiece, they may discover--to their dismay--that dog don't hunt anymore. A la carte... consumers want it, or something like it. Roku has just fired a warning shot that the industry needs to listen to. -Jim