Cable networks go all-in for streaming when linear members flee
Execs have privately referred to the platform as Discovery +, although that name has not yet been confirmed. Many of the company's most popular brands and networks, including Discovery, TLC, and HGTV, are expected to play prominent roles.
The announcement closes a year in which many of the largest cable networks and their parent companies have taken bold steps to expand their brands into streaming as consumers become more and more cable-cut. This behavior was only accelerated by the pandemic, as many of these strategy changes were in the works prior to the March shutdown.
One of the most notable boosts from cable networks to streaming this year was ViacomCBS expanding its CBS All Access streaming service in July. This move came ahead of a major overhaul slated for early next year when the service is renamed Paramount + – featuring 3,500 episodes from networks like BET, Comedy Central, MTV and Nickelodeon, including all previous seasons of Nickelodeon's hit cartoon SpongeBob Square pants.
In March, FX collaborated with the Disney sibling to create Hulu FX on Hulu. The Branded Hub on the Hulu platform has several exclusive shows created by the FX team, plus access to all of the original episodes that air on FX / FXX and most of the network library the next day.
In the meantime, AMC Networks has introduced a new OTT offer with AMC +. This offering includes ad-free programming on AMC Networks' entertainment networks, several of the company's niche streaming services (Shudder, Sundance Now and IFC Films Unlimited), select AMC library shows (including all seven seasons of Mad Men) and access to live linear feeds by AMC, IFC, Sundance TV and BBC America.
Elsewhere, WarnerMedia and NBCUniversal have made major organizational overhauls to focus on their respective new streaming services (HBO Max and Peacock) and to assign the same people responsible for programming for both linear and streaming. Jason Kilar, CEO of WarnerMedia, cited "the economic pressures of the pandemic and the acceleration in the adoption of streaming direct to consumers" when explaining his revision in August. That decision included an expanded role for HBO program president Casey Bloys, who now also oversees content for HBO Max, TNT, TBS and truTV.
In the same week as WarnerMedia's reorganization, NBCUniversal had its own makeover. This strategy unified the entertainment segment and resulted in the hiring in October of former Warner Bros. TV president Susan Rovner, who now leads entertainment content for NBCUniversal Television and streaming entertainment content for all NBCU platforms, including Peacock.
This major reorganization has also resulted in the exit of several leading cable network bosses, including the US and Syfy bosses Chris McCumber and Kevin Reilly, who oversaw TNT, TBS and truTV.
"These are all fairly necessary changes that reflect changing consumer behavior," Jed Meyer, managing director of independent media and marketing consultancy Ebiquity in North America, told Adweek last month. "The way content is distributed now and in the future will keep changing and evolving, and so will your businesses."
Even the Hallmark Channel has built a solid streaming inventory: Last week, parent company Crown Media Family Networks announced that its SVOD service Hallmark Movies Now has more than 1 million customers.
Promising early returns
While it's far too early to determine if WarnerMedia and NBCUniversal's reorganizations are paying off, FX and AMC have promising early returns on their respective streaming pushes this year.