And we're off: Analysts earlier this year were predicting that at least 20 subscription-based OTT services would launch by 2018, most in small content niches. But in the meantime, a number of companies including startups, pay-TV operators and wireless carriers are jumping ahead with launches and partnerships, leaving analysts to scramble in the background.
In the past week alone we've seen at least five significant announcements around over-the-top video. On Tuesday, Sling TV teamed with T-Mobile on a service called Binge On that allows the wireless carrier's customers to stream Dish Network's OTT service with no data caps. That's a clear challenge to Verizon's recent mobile-first OTT entry, go90. Meantime, three pay-TV operators -- Comcast, Cox Communications and Time Warner Cable -- are testing their own OTT-based skinny bundles.
An upcoming service, Telletopia, boldly announced that it had found a solution to the copyright conundrum that brought down Aereo. When the streaming service launches in 2016, its co-founders said, its nonprofit status will make it exempt from broadcast retransmission requirements.
Another provider, Beachfront Media, debuted its RISE solution, which provides a direct-to-consumer streaming service to content creators. And Net Insight, perhaps better known for its work on the contribution side of digital video, is making a leap into the OTT video delivery market, hoping to leverage its experience with major sports leagues in order to improve delivery of live-streamed games.
All of these companies are staking their claims in the OTT market segment, and doing so as quickly as possible. Because it's still anybody's game out there.
A recent MoffettNathanson report outlined the issue. Even though pay-TV operators continued to lose subscribers in the third quarter, racking up as many as 357,000 video subscriber drops, the number of cord cutters appears to be unchanged from the second quarter of 2015. It's something of a mystery as to why.
"The mixed reading from Q3 obviously won't be the last word on the topic of cord-cutting," Michael Nathanson and Craig Moffett wrote in the quarterly wrap-up. "The pay-TV replacement services currently on the market just aren't that good. Growth for Sling TV has already hit a wall, and PlayStation Vue never felt like much of a contender. And the content companies really may pull back on the reins."
Still, the authors feel that consumers are just waiting for a more well-known option to emerge, Apple's long-expected linear OTT service. "Until Apple arrives, there's no reason to think the drip, drip, drip pace of cord-cutting will change."
Are consumers really waiting on Apple to do something? I don't believe they are -- but those who haven't completely cut the pay-TV cord may be waiting for a service and streaming device that appeal to them. If, as some analysts suggest, Apple's wealth of user data and its highly integrated ecosystem are exactly what's needed to goad consumers leery of streaming, then a linear OTT launch by the device giant would indeed be game-changing.
But Apple hasn't yet done so -- and other providers are happily filling in the OTT service gap. If the announcements that came down the pike this week are any indication, Apple will be jumping into an increasingly crowded field, one in which even those slowpoke, old-fashioned cable operators are managing to find traction. --Sam