While it has carved out one of the more attractive offerings in the tightly competitive virtual MVPD marketplace, YouTube TV faces daunting prospects in regard to achieving profitability, Bernstein Research analyst Todd Juenger says.
“Here's one big problem—any way we add it up, it loses money. (Just like all the other vMVPDs also lose money),” wrote Juenger, while staying that YouTube TV has “no obvious path to profitability.”
Performing a somewhat speculative yet transparent mathematical exercise replete with cost and revenue estimates, Juenger concluded in a note to shareholders late last week that YouTube’s live streaming service loses around $5 per customer.
Alphabet hasn’t reported subscriber numbers for its year-old vMVPD. In January, citing anonymous sources, Business Insider estimated that the service had around 300,000 customers.
Basing an estimate on the service having 1 million subscribers, however—and factoring in programming cost figures from Kagan—Juenger estimates YouTube TV is losing around $5 per customer, or $60 million a year.
“That’s not even a rounding error for Alphabet,” he noted.
But with programming costs expanding over time with annual reups, and YouTube TV’s expenditure rising with each customer, what happens when the service gets to 5 million customers and is losing $10 on each of them?
“Now we have a loss of -$600 million. Material yet?” Juenger added.
Of course, this economic discussion could be applied to any of the vMVPDs in the market. Some of their operators, notably AT&T, have tried in recent weeks to convince investors that the evolution in factors such as advanced advertising revenue will eventually fatten margins for vMVPD services like DirecTV Now.
Since Alphabet hasn’t released any similar spin on YouTube TV, Juenger speculated on what he thinks the company’s ultimate profitability path for its live streaming service might be.
Might Alphabet be hopeful that customers will so fall in love with YouTube TV that it can raise the price of the service? Not likely, Juenger noted, given the competitiveness of the vMVPD market.
Might Alphabet be banking on the extraordinary digital ad sales capabilities of Google? The analyst doesn’t buy that either.
Finally, might Alphabet be trying to form its own “network,” replete with powerful sports rights packages, by proving its ability to live stream? Juenger was warmer to that prospect.
“If YouTube won a significant sports rights contract (it wouldn't necessarily need to be one of the major pro sports leagues, by the way), they could create their own 'network' on YouTube TV as a home for it,” he analyst wrote. “And they would control and monetize 100% of the ad inventory.”