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Big Four Station Affiliates Continue To Grow Carriage On Willing Streaming Services

The following post comes from Kagan, a research group within S&P Global Market Intelligence. To learn more about our TMT (Technology, Media & Telecommunications) products and/or research, please request a demo.

The growing number of over-the-top TV services continue to add local big four TV station affiliates, as differentiated programming is becoming a critical competitive advantage in a growing and fragmented marketplace.

While many services are adding big four channels to complement their offerings, some have decided to take a lean approach by skipping local channels in favor of keeping price points low. Virtual service providers, or VSPs, such as Philo TV, strip out local broadcast channels and sports programming to bring subscribers the cheapest possible option. DISH Network Corp.'s Sling TV has kept its limited number of live local stations in favor of promoting its over-the-air antenna bundles.

But for many services in this analysis, the focus is on replicating the cable bundle to entice subscribers away from their traditional multichannel package, making broadcast channels a priority. OTT TV is now in the broadcast mainstream and is becoming an integral part of how live local television is delivered and monetized.

Kagan, a media research group within S&P Global Market Intelligence, has examined the streaming sector to gauge the reach of ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC in the space. Our analysis is based on the most recent company reports and public information for select VSPs, including Hulu LLC's Hulu with Live TV, DISH's Sling TV, Sony Corp.'s PlayStation Vue, AT&T Inc.'s DIRECTV NOW, Alphabet Inc. unit Google Inc.'s YouTube TV, fuboTV, and CBS Corp.'s OTT service CBS All Access. This analysis is an update to our last live-streaming station review published in October 2017.

CBS All Access

CBS added nine big four live streaming markets since our October 2017 analysis, taking its coverage of total U.S. households from 117.1 million to 119.0 million households, or 97.0% of total U.S. households.

Some of the markets and stations added recently to the All Access platform include: KBOI in Boise, Idaho; KIMA in Yakima-Pasco-Richland-Kennewick, Wash.; KVAL in Eugene, Ore.; KBAK in Bakersfield, Calif.; KIMT in Rochester-Mason City-Austin, Minn.-Iowa; WGFL in Gainesville, Fla.; KHQA in Quincy-Hannibal-Keokuk, Ill.Mo.-Iowa; and KTVO in Ottumwa-Kirksville, Iowa-Mo.

On January 5, CBS announced an agreement with Amazon.com Inc. that gives Amazon Prime members the ability to add CBS All Access' commercial-free offering to the Prime Video service for $9.99 per month. CBS is the first Amazon Channels partner to offer a feed of a subscriber's local broadcast station. The CBS All Access limited commercial plan is expected to launch on Prime Video in the coming months at $5.99 per month.

CBS is aiming to have eight million subscribers between both its Showtime OTT and CBS All Access services by the year 2020, and it reported in August 2017 that it was on track to surpass a combined four million subscribers by year's end. The All Access service is expanding to Canada in the first half of 2018 and may expand internationally from there.

Hulu with Live TV

Hulu with Live TV has been adding new big four affiliates at a significant clip since our previous analysis. The service added eight CBS affiliate stations, 69 ABC affiliate stations, 40 NBC affiliate stations, and 90 FOX stations, taking its big four streaming station total to 407 stations, the most of all services in our analysis. The increasing number of stations and markets has broadened the reach of its live local stations by 14.7% from 103.0 million, or 84.1% of total U.S. households, to 118.2 million, or 96.5% of total U.S. households.

Hulu with Live TV now offers 22 markets with all of the big four networks, covering 48.5 million households, or 39.5% of total U.S. households. In contrast, YouTube TV has the most markets offering all four big-four stations with 54, covering nearly 80.2 million households, or 65.4% of total U.S. households.

Hulu announced January 10 that it is working on a refresh of its live TV service that includes a new guide that will resemble the TV guide from cable TV services. According to a January 22 CNBC.com report, Hulu's live TV streaming service has accrued about 450,000 live TV subscribers since its launch in May 2017.

Sony PlayStation Vue

Sony has slowed its rate of singing up new big four TV station affiliates, but it did add seven big four affiliates since our last analysis. The service now has 194 live local big four affiliate stations covering 97.8 million households, or 79.9% of total U.S. households. PlayStation Vue reported in third quarter 2017 that it reached 455,000 subscribers.

CBS reached a new carriage agreement with PlayStation Vue that covers CBS-owned stations and affiliates along with Showtime, CBS Sports Network, CBSN and POP. Details of the agreement and the exact stations involved were not released. However, PlayStation Vue has 106 CBS-owned and affiliate stations being streamed in various markets across the U.S., behind only CBS All Access' 182 CBS stations and Hulu TV with 135 CBS stations.

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On December 15, 2017, 15 Tribune Media Co.-owned FOX affiliates were pulled from the PlayStation Vue service after Sony was unable to come to an agreement on terms with Tribune. The channels were changed to the FOX on-demand format. This was the first time a local affiliate has been dropped from a live TV streaming service over a contract dispute.

YouTube TV

YouTube TV has grown its live broadcast stations by 117 stations, bringing its total to 300 live stations with a reach of 97.6 million households, or 79.6% to total U.S. households. In December 2017, YouTube TV extended service to an additional 35 U.S. markets, pushing the market total to 84 according to our latest estimates.

In December 2017, YouTube pushed back the launch of YouTube TV apps for Apple Inc.'s Apple TV and Roku Inc.'s Roku devices until the first quarter of 2018. YouTube TV originally launched on the web, iOS and Android in five U.S. cities and eventually expanded to Chromecast, Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox One, Android TV, and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. and LG Electronics Inc. smart TVs throughout 2017.

On January 23, CNBC reported that YouTube TV has surpassed 300,000 live TV signups since the service launched in April 2017. When launched on Apple TV and Roku, the streaming service could see another uptick in subscribers.

In August 2017, YouTube unveiled an in-app chatting and video sharing feature called Community Tab. The new in-app features include sharing text posts, live videos, images, animated GIFs and other types of social media features. The social media functionality could theoretically allow TV creators to be able to engage viewers in ways that extend beyond their shows. This feature may soon launch on the YouTube TV and YouTube Music apps.

DIRECTV NOW

DIRECTV NOW has added 50 live big four stations to its service since our October 2017 analysis, expanding its household reach from 91.2 million households, or 74.5% of total U.S. households, to 96.9 million, or 79.2% of total U.S. households. DIRECTV NOW hit its one-year anniversary on November 30, 2017, and soon after surpassed 1.0 million subscribers.

DIRECTV NOW is adding a DVR update, currently in beta, to its app for subscribers using Amazon Fire TV devices, but the update should be available to the public in the coming weeks. The DVR feature has been a point of contention for some users as other services such as Fubo TV, YouTube TV, and Hulu with Live TV all offered DVR upon launch.

In January, reports of outages of the DIRECTV NOW service had subscribers in a huff. Following the launch of the new beta app, some subscribers were left without a signal. Cord Cutters News reported Jan. 5 that the outage was attributed to a rush by streaming services to expand capacity, and some streaming services such as DIRECTV NOW have struggled to keep up. Streaming services rely on extremely secure servers to prevent pirate streams, and the contracts streaming services have with content providers requires these secure servers.

FuboTV

FuboTV made the largest jump in household coverage since our last analysis, increasing from 66.6 million households, or 54% of total U.S. households, to 90.5 million households covering 73.8% of total U.S. households. The service added 74 big four TV stations and now totals 128 big four stations in 73 markets. The service does not have any agreements with Disney, which means no ESPN channels or ABC broadcast stations, a glaring omission from a sports-focused service.

FuboTV announced Oct. 10, 2017, that it had passed 100,000 subscribers in September 2017. The growth was attributed to investments in sports content, including the recent additions of CBS, CBS Sports Network, NFL Network and Pac-12 Network to the lineup of its base package, Fubo Premier. The package launched in April 2017 and it now includes more than 65 channels. Over the past six months, Fubo Premier has added the NFL Network, Pac-12 Network and numerous CBS and FOX affiliates. In addition, FuboTV expanded its DVR capacity and launched out of beta on Apple TV, iOS and Android devices, as well as Chromecast.

Sling TV

Sling TV has been slow to accumulate additional big four affiliates. It did not add any TV stations since our October 2017 analysis and remains at 36 big four stations in 23 markets covering 53.2 million U.S. households, or 43.4% of total U.S. households. The company has chosen the strategy to keep content costs down by promoting OTA bundle deals that use an antenna to provide the live local stations.

On January 4, comScore Inc. announced a partnership with Sling TV to offer cross-platform advertising measurement for DISH set-top boxes and Sling TV impressions. ComScore claims it is the first company to offer such services that measures impressions across platforms. The measurement allows advertisers to compare their campaign performance across the OTT service's connected TVs, mobile, and desktop impressions, as well as linear TV impressions on DISH.

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