Google Sets Deal With CBS for Broadcast-Centric Skinny Bundle Service

Google has reached a deal with CBS Corp. to carry the Eye network as part of the skinny bundle channel package that the tech giant aims to launch early next year.

Google intends to launch the low-cost streaming package under the YouTube umbrella, industry sources said. Google’s moves in this area add a heavyweight contender to the crowded field of “virtual MVPDs” lining up to reach the next generation of pay TV subscribers with services delivered via broadband rather than traditional wired cable, satellite TV or telco packages.

It’s understood that the Google-CBS deal will also encompass carriage of CBS-owned CBS Sports Network and Pop, the entertainment cabler that CBS jointly owns with Lionsgate. Google is said to be close to a deal with 21st Century Fox for carriage of the Fox broadcast network and key cable channels including its flagship FX, Fox Sports and National Geographic brands.

Google is said to be focused on locking in the major broadcast networks as the “anchor tenants” of its bundle, according to a TV industry insider with knowledge of the discussions. But ABC and NBC are not as far along in talks with Google, industry sources said. Disney/ABC is said to be sorting through numerous rights and carriage concerns in Google’s offer.

Talks with NBC are likely complicated by the fact that Google’s service will compete squarely with the core cable business of Peacock’s parent company, Comcast.

Google is said to be willing to launch without NBC for the sake of getting its package out in the market ahead of similar offerings coming next year from Hulu and possibly Apple. AT&T’s DirecTV is also staking out the OTT pay TV market with its DirecTV Now package scheduled to launch by year’s end.

CBS and Google declined to comment.

News of CBS’ deal with Google was first reported Wednesday by the Wall Street Journal.

Google has a lot of competition in its quest to capitalize on the rising ranks of cord cutters and cord nevers. Dish Network launched its Sling TV service in January 2015. Sling offers two different basic packages for $20 a month, to which customers can add various themed channel packs for $5, or tack on premium channels like HBO or Starz. It currently has an estimated 764,000 subscribers, according to SNL Kagan.

Sony’s PlayStation Vue product is essentially a regular-sized cable package delivered via the internet — with a monthly cost of $40 for 60 channels. Vue is more expensive than Sling, though it also includes more channels. Vue only launched nationwide in March, so subscriber numbers are a little thin.

Hulu announced in May that it would be launching a live OTT package in early 2017. Hulu has only officially signed Turner networks on, but deals with Disney and 20th Century Fox are just about done. Analysts put the potential price for the package around $40.

AT&T’s DirecTV Now is a bid to offer consumers more mobility in their video package, but it is not designed to be a low-cost service. The product is set to launch toward the end of 2016 with more than 100 channels, an offering for customers who want to watch their TV anywhere they are, and who don’t want to have to deal with a satellite dish or having to wait for the cable guy.

AT&T will benefit from savings on equipment costs, improving the margins of customer acquisition and support expenditures. It’s also part of AT&T’s big push to get consumers to sign up for its high-speed data service.

Currently, AT&T has signed on the likes of NBC Universal, Disney and Viacom. Holdouts include CBS and Fox, though the company is prepared to launch DirecTV Now without those channels and bring them into the fold once a deal can be reached.

Google has also been offering TV packages over the internet to its Google Fiber customers since its inception, giving customers a robust lineup of around 180 channels for an extra $60. But an August report from The Information said Google is cutting costs at its Fiber division, halving the staff. Analyst Craig Moffett of MoffettNathanson estimated in early September that Google Fiber had just 68,715 TV subscribers.

Meanwhile, Google has been taking big steps to enhance the video offerings on YouTube, which remains the world’s most-watched digital video platform. A year ago, the company launched YouTube Red, the $10 a month subscription service that gives customers access to exclusive video content and Google Play’s streaming music library — and, more importantly, also removes all ads from all YouTube videos.

YouTube Red started out with series from well-known creators like PewDiePie. But now it’s throwing enough cash around to nab series from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Dan Harmon and director Doug Liman, in a bid to compel people to fork over the same amount of money as they do for similarly ad-free Netflix.

It’s a pretty serious effort to turn YouTube into a destination for all kinds of video — premium TV, quirkier indie stuff and, yes, videos of cute kittens trapped in boxes.

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