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Streamers Try Cable-Style Bundling
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Streamers Try Cable-Style Bundling

More streaming companies turn to bundling as the industry faces economic headwinds.

Happy Thursday! We’re very excited to announce that The Dispatch is getting a makeover! We’ll have more information for you in the coming days, but you can expect some major upgrades to The Dispatch experience next week, including a new website, cleaner-looking emails, and an improved commenting experience. We’ll be here to walk you through it all, but get ready!

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • In a televised address on Wednesday, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for failing to develop a viable post-war plan for Gaza that does not involve an indefinite Israeli occupation of the territory. “I call on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make a decision and declare that Israel will not establish civilian control over the Gaza Strip, that Israel will not establish military governance in the Gaza Strip, and that a governing alternative to Hamas in the Gaza Strip will be raised immediately,” Gallant said in the rare public criticism. Benny Gantz, also a member of the war cabinet and political rival of Netanyahu, sided with the defense minister, saying he “speaks the truth.” Gallant’s remarks came amid renewed fighting between Israeli forces and Hamas fighters in northern Gaza, where the Israel Defense Forces previously conducted clearing operations. 
  • Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico was shot multiple times on Wednesday in an assassination attempt. Deputy Prime Minister Tomas Taraba said last night that Fico’s surgery “went well, and I guess in the end he will survive.” As of Thursday morning, the prime minister is in serious but stable condition. Law enforcement apprehended the alleged suspect—a 71-year-old writer from western Slovakia identified as Juraj C—at the scene of the shooting, and officials said that “initial information clearly points to political motivation” but didn’t provide additional details.
  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Wednesday the release of an additional $2 billion in military aid funding to Ukraine. Speaking alongside Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba in Kyiv, Blinken described the funding as a “first-of-its-kind defense enterprise fund” designed to help Ukraine purchase weapons quickly and in the medium-term, to invest in its defense industrial base. The announcement came as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky canceled his upcoming foreign travel in light of the Russian military offensive in northeastern Ukraine. 
  • President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump both announced Wednesday that they had agreed to two presidential debates—on June 27 and September 10—hosted by CNN and ABC News. The debates are not organized by the Commission on Presidential Debates, a nonpartisan group that has run all presidential debates since 1988, after both campaigns took issue with the dates the body selected. Independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has not received an invitation to either debate since he currently falls short of the polling and ballot-access benchmarks set by the networks, but he tweeted yesterday that he “will meet the criteria to participate in the [CNN] debate before the June 20 deadline.”
  • The Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose 0.3 percent month-over-month and 3.4 percent annually in April, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Wednesday, down from o.4 and 3.5 percent in March, respectively. Stripping out more volatile food and energy prices, core inflation was 3.6 percent year-over-year, the lowest annual rate of increase in three years.
  • The Biden administration decided on Wednesday to suspend federal grants to EcoHealth, a U.S.-based public health research organization that funneled National Institutes of Health grant money to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said it would halt active grants to EcoHealth that provided $2.6 million in funding last year. Under pressure from congressional lawmakers, HHS also moved to bar the organization from applying for future funding.
  • The House voted 387-26 on Wednesday to pass a bill reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), sending the legislation to Biden’s desk. If signed into law as expected, the reauthorization would provide more than $105 billion to the FAA and $738 million to the National Transportation Safety Board, in addition to increasing the number of daily long-distance, round-trip flights from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

Cable Redux? 

A TV remote control with streaming platform buttons at a store in Krakow, Poland, on January 11, 2023.  (Photo by Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
A TV remote control with streaming platform buttons at a store in Krakow, Poland, on January 11, 2023. (Photo by Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts announced on Tuesday that the cable giant will partner with Netflix and Apple to offer a new streaming bundle that includes Peacock, Netflix, and Apple TV+ at a discounted price. The news prompted another round of variations on what has become an increasingly familiar joke about streaming services: The new model for watching television is beginning to look a lot like the cable packages of yesteryear.

Streaming giants are turning to bundling as a strategy to retain subscribers amid the industry’s post-pandemic slump. “We’ve been bundling video successfully and creatively for 60 years,” Roberts said at an industry conference in New York on Tuesday. “This is the latest iteration of that.” Currently, Peacock Premium, Netflix standard with ads, and Apple TV+ would cost $23 a month—$25 after Peacock raises prices this July—to purchase separately. Comcast didn’t announce a price point for its new bundle, but Roberts claimed it will “come at a vastly reduced price to anything in the market today.”

What’s driving the ostensible competitors to partner? Netflix and Apple are looking to gain additional subscribers who are less likely to cancel their subscriptions—or churn, to use industry lingo. Comcast gets a subscriber boost to its streaming platform, Peacock, while bolstering the company’s broadband and cable TV business since only subscribers to Comcast’s Xfinity Internet and/or Xfinity TV will be able to access the discounted bundle price. 

Tuesday’s announcement is just the latest in a string of similar moves. Warner Brothers Discovery (WBD) and Disney revealed last week they’ll begin offering a bundle of their own this summer that includes Max, Disney+, and Hulu. The first-of-its-kind inter-company deal follows Disney’s intra-company bundle with Disney+ and Hulu fully launched in March—Disney completed its takeover of Hulu from Comcast last fall. “On the heels of the very successful launch of Hulu on Disney+, this new bundle with Max will offer subscribers even more choice and value,” Joe Earley, the head of direct-to-consumer operations at Disney, said of the partnership with Max. 

JB Perrette, CEO and president of global streaming and games at WBD, said the deal “will help drive incremental subscribers and much stronger retention” and “presents a powerful new roadmap for the future of the industry.” WBD had already combined its in-house HBO Max and Discovery+ services under the Max umbrella last year. 

The revival of bundling is also beginning to disrupt sports TV. Disney, Fox Corp, and WBD announced in February that they plan to launch a combined sports streaming service later this year that is accessible to ESPN+, Hulu, and Max subscribers. As Tyler Hummel wrote for the site earlier this year:

The new sports merger comes as companies are trying new approaches to growing revenue through their subscription services, while traditional cable packages struggle to maintain their relevance.

The strength of this sports merger may be that up to this point, “cutting the cord” and switching to streaming services has meant piecing together individual services—especially with sports—to get complete access to channels offered on traditional cable packages. But those individual subscriptions add up, and the merger takes a page from traditional cable companies’ playbook.

How did the industry get to this point again? Way back when—well before some of your TMDers were paying for their own subscriptions—cable companies dominated TV, selling consumers a big bundle of channels and content at a higher price, sometimes with hidden fees and rigid annual contracts. Television watchers didn’t necessarily care about having access to 100-plus channels, but buying the bundle was the price of entry to get the channels they did want. More than 90 percent of TV households had a pay-TV (e.g., cable or satellite) subscription as recently as 2010, when the average monthly cable TV bill was $75.

But Netflix—which started out as a pioneering DVD-by-mail rental company—launched its streaming service in 2007, and its subscriber base quickly shot upward. For a paltry monthly fee, you could get access to a growing library of movies and television on-demand and, eventually, original content produced by the company—all free from ads. A flood of customers became “cord cutters,” pivoting from cable to streaming. Broadcast and cable TV accounted for less than half of U.S. viewing time for the first time ever last summer, and cable companies continue to hemorrhage millions of customers each year.

Netflix was the starting gun for the so-called “streaming wars,” and companies like Amazon, Apple, and Disney wanted in on the action as former cable customers transitioned to streaming. New entrants contributed to a glut of new content with companies spending hundreds of millions of dollars on huge hit shows like Stranger Things. The eight largest streamers currently offer close to 40,000 TV shows and films, according to Reelgood, a streaming data aggregator. But the competition has hurt profit margins and customers have proven fickle, frequently canceling their subscriptions and sometimes only resubscribing after a new season of their favorite show comes out. 

Streaming companies felt the squeeze from Wall Street in 2023 as pandemic-fueled subscriber growth dried up, and with the high-interest rate environment, investors started asking where the profits are. Netflix excepted, most streaming platforms are operating in the red as they prioritize growing their subscriber base. Peacock saw $2.8 billion in losses in 2023, and Paramount+ lost $286 million in the first quarter of 2024 alone—although that represented a marked improvement from a $511 million loss in Q1 2023. Disney has lost billions on streaming since it launched Disney+ in 2019, but its latest earnings report indicated the company is close to breaking even on streaming on a quarterly basis.

“I think what happened in the 2010s is the industry went down a very dangerous financial path of trying to invest in every type of content in every genre to try and be something for everyone,” WBD’s Perrette said last week. “And at the end of the day, we know where that led us to.” Executives at rival companies agree. “As we got into the streaming business in a very, very aggressive way, we tried to tell too many stories,” Disney CEO Bob Iger said yesterday. “Basically we invested too much, way ahead of possible returns. It’s what led to streaming ending up as a $4 billion loss.”

Streaming companies are searching for new business strategies to get them closer to the black. This includes cracking down on password sharing, raising subscription prices, introducing ads to the platforms, and now, bundling with competitors’ offerings.

But industry analysts argue that the revival of bundling doesn’t necessarily signal a return to the rigid days of frustrating cable packages. “Some people say that this sounds just like cable,” Jason Cohen—CEO of MyBundle, a platform that helps customers find the best combination of streaming services for their needs—said in March. “But the people who say that probably haven’t had cable in six, seven years and don’t realize how expensive cable has gotten. The second thing is that the cable bundle was one-size-fits-all. There might have been two or three tiers, but it was, ‘Here is what you get,’ versus this new world of really picking and choosing what you want.”

People tired of keeping track of their subscriptions to multiple streaming services will likely benefit from simpler bundling options. “It was always a bundle,” Joe Marchese, a venture capitalist and former ad-sales executive at Fox Networks, said Tuesday. “Do you watch everything on Netflix? No. That means that you’re subsidizing the stuff you weren’t watching.”

“But now people have to choose between a lot of different streaming packages,” he added. “And everyone is going to be in the fight to be the re-bundler. Everybody will want to be that ultimate bundle.” 

Worth Your Time

  • Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Walter Russell Mead explained how Russia is taking advantage of U.S. setbacks in Africa. “Russia’s power move in Niger is part of a broader pattern,” he wrote. “From Libya to South Africa, Mr. Putin is capitalizing on American and Western mistakes to acquire lucrative mineral resources, complicate Western security planning, and enhance the Kremlin’s ability to evade sanctions. Not since the British East India Co. built an empire from the ruins of Mughal power has a semi-private mercenary company enjoyed as much success as the Wagner Group has in Africa. … For Mr. Putin, the benefits of his Africa strategy are clear. Wagner’s operations make billions of dollars. Some of that flows to the oligarch community around Mr. Putin, helping him keep his minions happy. Some of it underwrites the Ukraine war. And Wagner’s links to mining operations and governments across Africa allow for lots of money laundering and sanctions evasion that further help Mr. Putin wage war.”
  • Those who lay awake at night fearful of a reinvigorated bout of inflation can take a sigh of relief, Jonathan Levin argued in Bloomberg. “The disinflation process appears to be intact, even if it’s happening in fits and starts,” Levin wrote. “Three straight months of higher-than-expected inflation at the start of the year caused hand-wringing that the Federal Reserve’s 5.25 percent to 5.5 percent policy rate may not be high enough to bring supply and demand into better balance. Yields on 10-year Treasury notes had climbed as much as 82 basis points this year, and speculation was mounting—however far-fetched—that policymakers’ next move could be to raise rates, rather than cut them. Wednesday’s data should put the inflation-doom genie back in the bottle for a while. Together with Tuesday’s producer price index data, the [CPI] numbers also suggest that the Fed’s preferred inflation gauge—the core personal consumption expenditures deflator—probably increased by 0.247 percent in April, also slower than any month in the first quarter, according to calculations by Bloomberg Economics. While that sort of month-to-month inflation still isn’t consistent with the Fed’s target (or policymakers’ March forecasts), they will be relieved to see that the trajectory is improving and that the data is no longer delivering large surprises.” 

Presented Without Comment 

The Hill: Biden Campaign Hawks ‘Free on Wednesdays’ T-shirts in Jab at Trump Trial

President Biden and his campaign are taking a jab at former President Trump and his ongoing hush money trial, launching a new fundraising campaign that mocks Trump being “free on Wednesdays,” a nod to the only weekday there is guaranteed to be no court hearing held in the former president’s criminal case.

Also Presented Without Comment 

NBC News: NYC Mayor Eric Adams Proposes Immigrants As Solution To Lifeguard Shortage Because They Are ‘Excellent Swimmers’

Also Also Presented Without Comment 

Forbes: Trump Defends Kristi Noem Over Shooting Her Dog: ‘We All Have Bad Weeks’

Trump, who is believed to be considering Noem as a potential running mate, said he understood why the anecdote about the family dog drew so much criticism. “The dog story, people hear that and people from different parts of the country probably feel a bit differently, but that’s a tough story,” Trump said. “She had a bad week. We all have bad weeks.”

In the Zeitgeist

OpenAI launched an updated model for ChatGPT this week, GPT-4o, and it can do some pretty cool stuff—though the AI voice sounds eerily familiar

Toeing the Company Line

  • In the newsletters: The Dispatch Politics crew reported on the Trump campaign’s efforts to stack the deck on RNC committees, Scott argued against (🔒) public subsidies for sports stadiums, Nick unpacked the significance of the upcoming Trump-Biden debates, and Jonah explored (🔒) the thin line between antisemitism and anti-Zionism. 
  • On the podcasts: Jonah is joined by Ryan Bourne on The Remnant to discuss prices, price fixing, and what’s happening with the libertarians.
  • On the site: John reports on the divisions within Congress over Biden’s Israel policy and whether comparisons to Donald Trump’s impeachable Ukraine policy in 2019 hold any weight.

Let Us Know

Have you cut the cord in recent years and turned to streaming? Would you be interested in returning to a bundle of some kind?

Grayson Logue is the deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in political risk consulting, helping advise Fortune 50 companies. He was also an assistant editor at Providence Magazine and is a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh, pursuing a Master’s degree in history. When Grayson is not helping write The Morning Dispatch, he is probably working hard to reduce the number of balls he loses on the golf course.

Peter Gattuso is a reporter for The Morning Dispatch, based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2024, he interned at The Dispatch, National Review, the Cato Institute, and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. When Peter is not helping write TMD, he is probably watching baseball, listening to music on vinyl records, or discussing the Jones Act.