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Situational awareness: The Fox/Disney/Comcast/Sky M&A dance is expected to heat up this week.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
Digital content bundles that Americans are using in the place of cable packages are significantly hiking their prices as they grow and hook consumers.
Why it matters: Bundled content packages with fewer channels are an increasingly popular way for consumers to watch video content, but there is little regulation around pricing, consolidation and distribution fees to protect consumers from long-term price inflation.
The context: Regulators rarely step in to stop price hikes for traditional Pay-TV service providers, which are seeing consumers depart in droves, in part because of pricing, but also because of experience.
The digital distributors: Most digital multichannel video programming distributors (dMVPDs) — or skinny bundle packages with live programming — have hiked the prices of their digital TV subscription fees as their user bases continue to grow.
The on-demand companies: The largest subscription video on-demand companies (SVODs) — like Netflix and Amazon — are also increasing prices.
Bottom line: Most consumers end up subscribing to more than one of these skinny bundles in order to access both live and on-demand programming. Eventually, consumers could expect to pay more for digital programming in total than they do now for their traditional cable or satelite package.
The bigger picture: Regulators at the FCC and FTC can't stop these services from raising their prices, even if they collectively end up one day costing consumers more than they pay now for hundreds of cable channels.
What's next? Expect this trend to carry over to other on-demand media. Spotify is testing a 10% subscription fee increase in Norway.
The kicker: Knowing that the streaming surge is coming and it's reliant on internet access, almost every major Pay-TV provider with a broadband (internet) offering (think Comcast, Verizon, etc.) has touted the growth of its broadband business to investors on earnings calls over the past several quarters.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
Media analysts and experts are torn on whether new AT&T media boss John Stankey has the right strategy in pushing HBO CEO Richard Plepler to create more hours of content to drive more revenue, a position that was revealed via a recorded discussion first obtained by The New York Times.
"HBO is going to do more high. And they have room to. It's not about a 1-to-1 race."— Jason Hirschhorn, an influential media executive and critic, in a blog post
"It's naive of Stankey to imply that HBO needs catch up Netflix, $2 billion is not going to do it."— Michael Pachter, managing director of Equity Research at Wedbush Securities to Axios
The bottom line: Recode's Peter Kafka posted a longer version of the full exchange Monday night, and if you read it, the exchange seems less contentious. Kafka points out that Stankey constantly reassures HBO that it would be given the resources and autonomy to grow while preserving its brand.
The big picture: Storytellers have been worried about the future of their craft given the harsh business circumstances swallowing the media business.
John Landgraf, the CEO of 21st Century Fox-owned cable network FX and FX Productions, told Axios in March that he's worried media companies being bought by telecom or tech giants that don't have content at their core could lead to less quality storytelling.
When Stankey's comments were first reported, it startled a lot of people who never thought of HBO as a network trying to take on Netflix directly as a streaming company, but rather a premium cable channel that people are willing to pay extra for.
Why it matters: Unlike Netflix, HBO is still mostly sold through a wholesaler — it's purchased as an add-on subscriptions to a Pay-TV package, not through a standalone digital streaming subscription.
Time Warner executives explained this repeatedly throughout the the six-week AT&T/Time Warner trial earlier this year.
When it comes to the streaming landscape, Netflix is by far the most dominant player, according to ComScore's latest State of OTT report out last week.
Reach of total OTT households:
Overall, OTT is exploding in the U.S., per the report. Total U.S. OTT Households:
The international angle: In potentially pushing HBO to grow its consumer base like a streamer, not a cable channel, AT&T could expand its customer base even more internationally. (HBO already has some overseas reach in places like Latin America, Europe and Asia.) This is significant because other media and telecom companies, like Comcast, are pushing to grow internationally through streaming deals.
Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Press freedom experts worry that the new Supreme Court Justice nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, could share President Trump's view that U.S. libel laws need to be rewritten.
Why it matters: Journalists enjoy legal protections laid out by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
"This Court is likely to tackle some of the most consequential questions that are at the heart of newsgathering and the ability of journalists to do their jobs and hold the powerful to account. We hope that, if confirmed, Judge Kavanaugh will be a strong defender of the First Amendment and rights that protect journalism at a time of extraordinary technological change.”— Bruce D. Brown, Executive DIrector, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
The big picture: An independent judiciary has also played an incredibly important role in protecting freedom of the press long-term, specifically in shielding the press from libel laws that would make it much more difficult to cover public officials, according to Sarah Matthews, Staff Attorney at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
Kavanaugh, in particular, is a constitutional conservative that some legal experts argue would likely side with conservatives in supporting corporate free speech cases.
Be smart: Even if Kavanaugh's nomination was approved and he agreed with Trump's desire to revisit libel laws, the First Amendment — on cases of religion, corporate speech, and more — has almost always won under Chief Justice Roberts.
The U.S. ranks 45th out of 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index, according to a Reporters without Borders study.
Why it matters: The U.S. has relatively strong free press standing compared to the rest of the world, but not compared to some of our European counterparts.
Bloomberg is the latest media company to launch a show with Facebook Watch, Axios has learned. It joins roughly 19 other publishers in doing so by the end of the summer.
Bloomberg was the first company to launch a 24/7 network on Twitter called TicToc last year. It’s since invested in spreading its Twitter network teams to Hong Kong and London. A separate team will be managing its new Facebook show.
Philo, a live, digital streaming service that focuses solely on entertainment and lifestyle programming has raised more than $40 million from existing investors with AMC Networks, Discovery and Viacom leading the company’s Series C round of funding.
What's next: The skinny bundle service is also launching on Amazon Fire TV and Apple TV.
Vinyl sales are up over 19% year over year to 7.6 million units sold, according to the same Nielsen Music's 2018 mid-year report.
Why it matters: The resurgence of physical album sales are showing new signs of resilience, per Nielsen, as independent retail events like Record Store Day drive music fans to stores.
The top 5 Vinyl LP albums: