Lazard Capital Markets’ Barton Crockett seems to think so in a thought experiment this morning. Asked to envision a change that could reshape the long-term prospects for media — part of Lazard’s Imagine That collection of analyst essays — he says that it “could be good for content-owning conglomerates” if consumers began to use the Internet to just subscribe to the channels that they want. To be sure, the analyst doesn’t see things changing soon; he says that the current system of pay TV bundling is “resilient, and not crumbling.” Still, he challenges the conventional wisdom that media giants would find themselves on a toboggan ride to financial ruin if consumers escaped from a system that requires them to pay for channels that they don’t want. Crockett bases his conclusion on two assumptions: Consumers would continue to spend $78B a year on pay TV. And, in a post-bundle world, content creators could collect all of that instead of settling for the $32B in program fees that they currently receive from distributors. Actors or producers wouldn’t try to appeal directly to consumers, cutting out Big Media companies, because they need someone who will “write big checks, and take care of the administrative hassles of marketing and distribution,” he says. “Anyone can make a singing competition, but networks like Fox and NBC can make them popular by touting them to large audiences, and investing large sums for the highest profile judges and best production values.”
Crockett taps his effort from this summer to estimate who’d gain and lose the most cash flow if networks had to fend for themselves in the market. Whipping together financial data with a survey of consumer loyalty to different channels, he says the biggest winners would include A&E (+$3.0B), Viacom (+$2.4B), Scripps Networks (+1.9B), and CBS (+$1.9B, not including Showtime). He sees one big loser: Disney (-$3.4B). Mind you, that’s just a calculation for the program fees. But the analyst says that ad sales likely would be unchanged. Even though each channel would reach fewer households, “the remaining viewers would likely be more loyal, so engagement could be increased.”
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