Megadeals Show Strength of Streaming Markets

Just in time for this week’s NewFronts digital programming presentations, two recent headlines underscore how significant a business Internet-delivered video has become for traditional media players.

Hell didn’t freeze over on April 23, even after HBO announced a licensing pact with Amazon Prime for selected older programs. In the past, HBO had sworn it would never let its content seep out of the confines of its subscriber base onto streaming-video platforms.

On the same day, Chernin Group and AT&T let it be known that they intend to invest $500 million in over-the-top video services. The partners plan to scout around for new programs and channel offerings. The announcement was short on specifics, but the companies were clear on what they are not trying to do. They’re not building a “virtual” cable service that bundles established channels into a subscription.

Efforts to launch such a business have hardly gone over the top for Intel, Apple and Sony, all of whom have been trying without much luck to recruit high-profile channel partners to ambitious ventures. However, a recent report suggests Dish could launch its own virtual foray as soon as this summer, with a Disney deal in tow.

While many of his associates have waited for Peter Chernin to take over a studio or buy a major network in the years since he left News Corp., his eyes have been on very different prizes, such as Asian tech and content companies that few who dine at the Grill have ever heard of.

In December, Chernin Group acquired a majority stake in Crunchyroll, the subscription VOD service focused on anime — not quite the major channel brand Chernin might be expected to snap up. By putting a $500 million number in their April 23 press release, Chernin and AT&T are signaling they see real value to be derived from next-generation content providers.

HBO’s deal with Amazon Prime represents the other end of the business spectrum for Internet video. Gaining access to HBO’s vault is a coup for Amazon in its jockeying with Netflix. The SVOD rivals have been on a spending binge during the past year to lure new subscribers, and for that they need the carrots of high-end TV programming.

Amazon’s HBO deal comes with many strings attached, all designed to protect the HBO mothership. It covers selected shows in a three-years-from-airing window: “The Sopranos,” “The Wire,” “Six Feet Under” and “Deadwood,” plus early seasons of “Boardwalk Empire” and “True Blood,” will be beaming out to Amazon subs as of May 21 — but not boffo hits “Game of Thrones,” and “True Detective” yet. That ensures that HBO and its popular HBO Go authenticated broadband service are the only places to get everything HBO has to offer.

Analysts estimated the Amazon pact is worth $250 million to $400 million to HBO over the initial term of the deal, pegged at three to four years. Those kinds of numbers are too big for even HBO to ignore.

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