Kate Bulkley, Media Analyst.

How to avoid The Big Squeeze

By Kate Bulkley

Broadcast News

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For Broadcast August 21, 2016

Diversification is crucial for US content giants, says Kate Bulkley

The big media story in the US is the denouement of the Viacom power struggle: long-time chief executive Philippe Dauman will depart with a reported $72m (£55m) package. Control of the company, which owns MTV, Nickelodeon and Channel 5, will revert to the daughter of 93-year-old owner Sumner Redstone.

The change could bode well. Viacom’s shares have languished recently and critics say Dauman has failed to guide the company through the changing habits of its core, young audiences, who are migrating to online platforms.

Viacom has also suffered from another phenomenon, one I call ‘The Big Squeeze’, as its traditional cable and satellite distribution partners cut the affiliate fees they pay for channels and content. The

Big Squeeze is not unique to Viacom, as evidenced by the second-quarter results for Scripps Networks Interactive. Scripps’ income from distributors was predicted to rise by 1%, but it stunned the market with a 3.6% fall.

That knocked the stuffing out of its share price, which fell 6.7% in one day. Scripps’ ad revenue (70% of the company’s total revenue) rose, but the stock market knows The Big Squeeze is here to stay.

Several factors are driving it. First, the cost of content – particularly premium sport and high-quality drama – is increasing as platforms try to differentiate themselves from rivals including Netflix and Amazon.

Second, ongoing consolidation among the distribution companies – such as Charter Communications’ recent acquisition of Time Warner Cable – gives them more leverage with their suppliers.

Add in the rise of cord-cutting by cable customers, and the likes of Scripps and Viacom get squeezed.

Interestingly, Scripps is starting to put effort into digital content, diversification and international growth.

Year-on-year revenues at Scripps’ international networks division jumped from $22m (£17m) to $147m (£112m) in the second quarter of 2016, thanks to the “transformative acquisition” of Polish broadcaster TVN last year.

It recently launched Food Network in Brazil and HGTV in Asia, and the latter will also launch in the Middle East this autumn.

Scripps isn’t just investing in linear channels. Earlier this month, alongside Turner Broadcasting, it invested in content producer Refinery29, a female-focused online network with 27 million unique users and a viewer reach of 225 million.

Scripps has also launched the Scripps Lifestyle Studios to create bespoke content for online audiences, working with platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram, which has helped to grow digital revenues.

Scripps has also struck an e-commerce deal with furniture firm Wayfair that allows audiences to buy the furniture they see on Scripps channels and online content, earning the broadcaster money on every sale.

The Big Squeeze is not unique to the US. In the UK, Sky has had to pay more for premium sport and drama so it, too, has to consider what it pays for its TV content.

And with Liberty Global, the owner of Virgin Media, consolidating its platforms and partnering with mobile operators like Vodafone, its centralised buying power will have the same kind of effect. ­

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