Sky TV signs new ViacomCBS deal as direct-to-consumer apps edge closer

Sky TV has managed to staunch the advance of direct-to-consumer apps, at least on one front.

The pay-TV broadcaster says it has inked a new multi-year deal with ViacomCBS for an undisclosed sum.

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ViacomCBS’ army of brands includes the Showtime network, home to middle-brow hits such as Billions, Ray Donovan, Nurse Jackie, Dexter and Homeland.

US viewers have been able to subscribe to Showtime’s streaming app for years, cutting their cable TV provider out of the loop.

Last year, Australia’s Nine (and its streaming service Stan) learned it would lose most of its Showtime content as it went direct-to-consumer in that country.

That won’t be the case on this side of the Tasman. A spokeswoman confirmed that Sky’s new multi-year deal with ViacomCBS gives it exclusive first-run NZ rights to Showtime content, from its on-demand service and streaming via Neon.

There’s no doubt which way the world is tilting, however, as direct-to-consumer services become more and more popular with content makers.

First Disney pulled most of its content from Sky (and its pay-TV peers around the world) so it could sell its content exclusively through its own Disney+.

Then HBO followed suit with HBO Max, and Discovery with Discovery+ – which launched last month in several countries and appears to be heading for NZ, where Discovery recently watered down Sky’s deal.

And on January 20, ViacomCBS said it would rename its CBS All Access app as Paramount+ from March 4 and expand its presence to “the Nordics” and Australia by “mid-2021”.

CBS All Access content includes shows drawn from ViacomCBS properties including CBS, Nickelodeon, MTV, Comedy Central and Paramount Pictures.

The broad idea is: Why let an old-school middle man like Sky TV – or a new-school middle man like Netflix – take a cut when modern broadband lets you sell to punters direct.

Things look especially ominous (for cable TV providers) in the US, where Disney is bundling three of its streaming brands, Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+ direct to consumers in a US$12.99 per month bundle.

Of course, Sky can still bid more than a content maker reckons it could generate from direct sales. But as people get more comfortable with streaming, that means cutting a bigger and bigger cheque with each contract renewal.

Sky shares were recently trading at 18c.

The stock got a bounce last week as it again upgraded its forecast, and analysts were split over whether US technology investment fund Silver Lake’s potential big-money in the All Blacks would ultimately prove positive or negative for Sky.

One thing is for sure, however: As direct-to-consumer apps globalise Hollywood content, local sports rights are more important to Sky than ever.

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