It’s not easy being an indie standalone channel in the era of cord-cutting and “too much TV.” Participant Media learned that the hard way, moving in to pull the plug on its three-year old network Pivot TV, writing off a $200 million initial investment and further tens of millions in costs.
Cord-cutting “continues to dominate investor outlooks,” RBC Capital Markets’ Steven Cahall said this week. Pay TV providers– cable, satellite and telcos — lost 665,602 subscribers in Q2, according to researcher Bruce Leichtman.
Their annual rate hikes have become risky as consumers, especially Millennials, warm to low cost alternatives including Netflix. Many cable owners fear that cord cutting and shaving will accelerate when they face planned live streaming services from Hulu and AT&T’s DirecTV — and possibly Apple.
These likely will have fewer channels than the traditional expanded basic pay TV bundle, and also cost less. Operators hope to compete by offering their own so-called skinny bundles, just featuring their most popular networks.
At the hight of cable and satellite services’ popularity, small, limited-appeal nets were considered safe when part of a network group featuring channels the cable and satellite providers had to have, which was used as leverage to secure carriage for the lower-profile nets. With the introduction of skinny bundles, that no longer is the case.
The danger is even bigger for small, independent channels as cable operators see their profit margins from TV slipping and want to cut costs. That has led to consolidation — for instance BBC America was acquired by AMC Networks which itself has been an acquisition target.
Some say Pivot TV was doomed from the start as Participant Media went into the indie cable network business without knowing how the market works. There were multiple attempts at a course correction via executive shakeups but nothing could save Pivot TV from going under.
“The squeeze is on these little channels, and it’s going to get worse,” said media analyst Hal Vogel, head of Vogel Capital. “My guess is this [Pivot] won’t be the only one.”
Viewers have a limited bandwidth of how many hours of TV they can watch a day. “Additionally, the younger population is mobile and glued to the phone,” Vigel said. “They don’t watch television as much…It’s the move to mobile that’s killing this [cable TV] economy.”
Pivot TV has been targeting the elusive millennial audience. Observers have drawn comparisons to Current TV, which in its original incarnation also was after younger viewers, and the A+E Networks’ recently rebranded Viceland, which has had a hard time trying to take hold. After a long time on the market, Current TV was able to land a buyer, Al Jazeera, which shelled out $500 million. That network too eventually shut down.
“This was the last network to sell for its distribution,” an industry observer said of the Current TV deal. Participant Media also tried hard to unload Pivot TV but there were no takers.
While cord-cutting and Pivot TV’s focus on Millennials are considered logical factors in its demise, not everyone is convinced.
“You can call it the first casualty of cord-cutting, skinny bundling, OTT and delayed viewing phenomenon but that’s too easy of an answer,” an industry insider said. “Maybe it was just a network that nobody needed. Maybe it could’ve survived 25 years ago but not today. If your content is not something that is in demand, you are in trouble, and that is especially true if you are a niche network.”
None of the series Pivot TV put on the air has made a mark.
Meanwhile, Adult Swim often dominates the adults 18-49 ratings. With its median age in the low 20s, those ratings are largely driven by Millennials.
“Millennials are watching linear TV despite what people say,” one observer said. “Millennials are not abandoning linear TV, they just don’t want to watch most of what’s on linear TV.”