Hulu a consensus pick to survive vMVPD’s ultracompetitive race: FOV poll

Like the young, craven attention wanters on the long-running CBS reality hit "Survivor," operators of virtual MVPD services know there aren't enough customers to support half a dozen platforms, and somebody is getting voted off the island. (CBS Corp.)

Hulu’s new livestreaming service is the consensus pick among four top video industry analysts polled by FierceCable to survive what is an increasingly competitive market for virtual MVPD services. 

There are now five major virtual MVPD services livestreaming pretty much the same major broadcast and cable channels for somewhat similar price offerings. And around 20 million broadband-equipped U.S. homes lack traditional pay TV service. 

Indeed, like craven young attention-getters sitting around a TV reality show vote-off, the operators of Sling TV, DirecTV Now, Sony PlayStation Vue, YouTube TV and Hulu know that there’s not enough marketshare for everyone, and someone is getting voted off the island. 

To get a sense of which service might fare best in this suddenly competitive space, FierceCable conducted an unofficial poll with analysts over email Friday. While Sling TV, DirecTV and YouTube TV each scored with some analysts but not others, all four we spoke to sung the praises of the just-launched Hulu live platform. 

“I have a good feeling about Hulu—they are doing a lot of things right, the recommendation-based interface, in particular,” said Alan Wolk, lead analysts at TV[R]EV.

“That changes the equation and creates a library-based system rather than a linear one,” Wolk added. “That’s a huge change—takes us from ‘What’s on now?’ to ‘What do you want to watch now?' Plus, if you currently have ad-free Hulu, your total cost is lower as it’s included in the service. And because the networks own Hulu, they’ll be able to keep those carriage and retrans fee disputes to a minimum.”

Added Brett Sappington, senior analyst for Parks Associates: “Hulu is a recognized leader in the OTT space among consumers and can build upon the success of its SVOD service. Hulu already invests in original programming and could continue to do so for live TV. Hulu’s ownership by leading network groups suggests that it will have staying power and ongoing access to premium content.”

As for other consensus picks, none of the analysts picked Sony’s two-year-old PlayStation Vue platform to distinguish itself. This is understandable, since Vue didn’t grow explosively in the 24 months during which it only had Sling TV to compete with in the virtual pay-TV market. 

DirecTV was selected as a likely surviver by three of the analysts, with Sappington noting, “AT&T can leverage bundling of broadband, mobile, Fullscreen and Otter Media properties (e.g. Crunchyroll) to push DirecTV Now to success. AT&T has dipped its toe into original programming, which is another way to gain an advantage.”

RELATED: DirecTV Now initial growth caught AT&T engineers ‘flat-footed,’ top company tech says

Dish’s Sling TV service, the current leader among vMVPD services in terms of subscribers, also got a nod from Wolk, who cited its “head start” in the market. 

“Sling provides one of the strongest budget OTT offerings to a budget conscious marketplace,” Sappington added. “Dish has already iterated its products several times to find the right mix.”

For his part, Frost & Sullivan Senior Analyst Dan Rayburn discounted the potential of Sling and DirecTV Now. He believes Google’s YouTube TV and Hulu, along with potential vMVPD offeings down the road from Amazon and Apple, have more potential because they “benefit in other ways and have a larger platform where they can make money from other services, products, etc.”

Meanwhile, Joel Espelien, senior analyst for The Diffusion Group, questioned Google’s commitment to the vMPVD race. “YouTube itself is not going anywhere, but they could easily get bored with the SVOD space and go back to free stuff,” he said.