AT&T Time Warner deal a sign of things to come

The ground shook across the TV landscape when a potential AT&T Time Warner deal was announced, forewarning investors and competitors that the behemoths are taking the changed landscape seriously.

The deal, at a cost of $85 billion, is a long shot to be approved by regulators. Even it fails, it demonstrates how jumbled the era of Peak TV has become.

AT&T Time Warner deal
The AT&T Time Warner deal is a sign of the future

Our viewing habits have changed drastically over the last few years, with many cutting the cord, streaming services taking preference (especially among the coveted Millennials) and even ratings for the NFL dipping. Everyone connected to the industry is trying to figure out how to win – and how to survive.

The idea behind an AT&T Time Warner deal is to own both the content and delivery of programming. The strategy is akin to that of Netflix, producing original programming because content providers have become increasing unlikely to make licensing deals with it. They want to own distribution as well.

With that in mind, there are all kinds of rumors about forthcoming deals. Disney will buy Netflix (unlikely, although the two did finalize an exclusive deal for Netflix to stream Pixar and Marvel movies). Comcast will look to another mobile carrier, like T-Mobile or Sprint. (Or even Dish.) Already, Charter is merging with Time Warner Cable (not to be confused with Time Warner).

Will any of these rumored acquisitions or mergers actually work?

What the AT&T Time Warner deal means.

Most analysts are skeptical, noting that Time Warner would be in danger of losing its fees from cable systems if it gave AT&T customers shows it owns, like Game of Thrones.

But I’m not. The old ways of doing things mean that content providers and distributors would just stand pat. They can’t do that. The downfall of Peak TV is that there’s simply too much of it. (Much of it good, mind you.) There will be a bubble that bursts at some point. The ones left standing will be the ones that control both ends of the creative spectrum.

The AT&T Time Warner deal may not be approved. But it won’t be the last one t0 get considered. These deals aren’t about gaining increased market share. They are about survival.

Will LeEco kill the Vizio brand? You bet.

Chinese content provider LeEco announced that it will purchase US television brand Vizio for $2 billion. Until recently, few consumers in the US had even heard of LeEco. In China, it is a pretty big deal. Called the “Netflix of China,” LeEco’s services runs the gambit from Amazon-like shopping, driverless cars, online content, smart phones to TVs. And that’s not even the full list.

LeEco has been trying to break into the US market for some time now and that task has finally been accomplished. But what does that mean for the Vizio brand?

Say goodbye to the Vizio brand

In 2015, Vizio accounted for one out of every five TVs sold in the US. By and large, Vizio TVs are generally well reviewed and, with a 20% market share, there are a lot of US consumers that would agree.

But don’t be surprised if LeEco kills the Vizio brand.

If true to form, LeEco will first change Vizio’s name to be in sync with the rest of its products. It will join the family of LeTV (everything in LeEco’s stable begins with Le) and LeEco will incorporate its acquired brand into what it refers to as its “premium ecosystem user interface.” That will allow consumers to have access to LeEco’s online content with 100,000 TV episodes and 500 films. Compare that to Netflix (4,300 movies) and Hulu (5,300).

Why Vizio will become something else.

But LeEco is not really buying Vizio to get into the TV business in the US. It is buying Vizio to get all of its businesses in the US, particularly its mobile phones and driverless cars. That is further proof that Vizio is doomed.

Chinese companies have traditionally had a difficult time in the US. American’s won’t buy Chinese car brands (though we buy US brands made in China). We shy away from Chinese TV brands – TCL, Hisense, and ZTE – as well as Chinese phone brands like Xiaomi, Huawei and Meizu. Again, we have no problem buying Chinese-made products owned by western companies. But, considering the current economic and political climates, there is something about Chinese companies that leads Americans to reject them.

The once strong rallying cry of “Made in the USA” has switched to “I don’t really care where it’s made as long as it’s not a Chinese company.” What’s odd is that we have little problem when a Chinese company buys a US company such Starwood Hotels, Smithfield Foods and GE’s appliances division. When a Chinese company enters the US market as its own Chinese brand, however, we dig in our heels.

This is the problem that LeEco will face if it really wants to be successful in the US market. It will be much easier for it to succeed if it kept the Vizio brand intact instead of bringing it into the LeEco ecosystem of brands.

If Vizio becomes LeTV, the acquisition will fail.

A new first-rate Netflix series: Stranger Things

I have a new obsession.

Stranger Things
Stranger Things even has Winona Ryder.

It’s a brand spanking new television series on Netflix called Stranger Things. Don’t worry, if you haven’t yet seen this series, you won’t find any spoilers here. Rather, you’ll get a nod to Netflix and also to the crew of the show for its attention to setting and entertaining storytelling.

Netflix, as well as Amazon and Hulu for that matter, have revolutionized home entertainment. Each is changing this landscape as we once knew it. These streaming services, through creative television series and film, have become a go-to for many. So much so that many of those Netflix watchers have cut their cable cords.

Stranger Things fits into the agenda of streaming networks seamlessly and stands out as one of the best. I think it deserves a place alongside House of Cards, Mozart in the Jungle, Orange is the New Black and Transparent as the upper tier of streaming content.

Stranger Things is binge-worthy TV

My social media feeds are going crazy with posts by folks who are plowing through the series in a day or two. My wife and I want to as well, but are forcing ourselves to watch only an episode a night to savor it.

What I love about the show is that it’s a sci-fi thriller that calls back to the 80s in its own original way while paying homage to that era. It’s peppered with a dynamic synthesizer score, ala John Carpenter, and classic 80’s tunes. The attire is just right, too (big hair, hip huggers and popped collars). At times, it feels like I am watching a near and dear cousin of Goonies, Stand By Me and E.T.. It’s so good that it fits right in with that crew of 80’s classics. The creators, the Duffer Brothers, have said that those movies and others were inspirations.

And don’t think Stranger Things is simply a copycat. About the third episode, it becomes its own thing.

That’s why it’s not all that surprising that Stranger Things is garnering a 90% rating from a coterie of critics on Rotten Tomatoes and a 9.2 user rating from IMDB.

Give Stranger Things some love. You won’t be disappointed.

The unsuspected Play-Doh goldmine on YouTube

Here I go again, writing about Play-Doh.

As I wrote before, my little granddaughter loves the stuff. She loves it just as much as she does Kinetic Sand (you’ve got to check that stuff out) and anything having to do with Frozen and Tangled. She is a Play-Doh fanatic and would rather play with the four and salt concoction than just about anything. “Pop-Pop, want to play Play-Doh with me?” is my usual greeting when I stop in to see the grandkids.

One day, as my son told me, in an attempt to avoid another screening of Elsa and Anna, he went to YouTube. There, he typed in a few key terms on the search page, such as, “Play-Doh,” “Frozen” and “Kids.”

Play-Doh on YouTube is a treasure chest for parents of young children.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

The search turned up endless QVC-like videos of both adults and children testing the gooey products. In this case, the test was the toy clay with a Frozen theme.

Play-Doh benefits from user-generated videos.

I implore you to do this. Visit YouTube and type in, “FROZEN Elsa Play-Doh STOP MOTION.” Then take a look at how many views the video has.

That’s right, 130 million views.

And that’s just one video by the DCTC TOY Channel (the company that produced this particular video).

Or even better, look up “Play Doh Sparkle Princess” by the channel FunToyzCollector.

Yep, that video has 471 million views. May I add, the person behind this handle was YouTube’s highest earner in 2014, making over $5 million for opening toy packages on screen.

If FunToyzCollector is making that kind of money, just imagine what the manufacturer must be making off of it too — all for free.

Heck, maybe I’ll retire early and go into the YouTube business of opening toys on screen. It’s certainly worth a shot.

Hulu ups the TV ante

Details are sketchy at the moment, but Hulu announced last week that it will unveil a TV streaming service next year that shows live programming, including sports.

Hulu CEO Mike Hopkins confirmed that the streaming service is negotiating with Fox, ABC, ESPN, FX and the Disney Channel for a service that doesn’t require a cable TV subscription.

Hulu will unveil the next step in TV programming next year.

This is another crossing of the Rubicon in the changing environment of how we consume TV programming. Many of us have already cut the cord with cable TV systems as viewers grab control of what they are offered and what they pay for.

Unless you are a sports fan, it’s probably just easy enough to subscribe to Netflix, Hulu, HBO GO and Amazon and be done with it. You don’t get live programming and Hulu shows day-old shows from the networks it has agreements with, but a new live streaming service is the logical next step.

The cable networks have responded by beefing up its On Demand services so that you get episodes of the network TV shows you subscribe to. But live programming from Hulu will trump that.

Hulu and sports?

The interesting part of this is Hulu’s inclusion of ESPN. Sports have been the key in cable TV remaining relevant because any sports fan needs cable TV or satellite TV to watch the major sports. (Or even the minor ones.)

Right now, ESPN does have a viewing app for its programming, but the app still tied into having a subscription to a cable or satellite TV service. It’s only a matter of time until it goes the HBO route and allows you to subscribe directly to the network.

Additionally, I would expect many networks to follow suit along with the streaming services themselves. What’s to keep Amazon, for example, from adopting a similar live programming framework? Or even Netflix for that matter? Or even NBC? (CBS already has something similar.)

In essence, the streaming services will become their own cable TV systems but at a lower cost. If there’s anything that has prompted the cable cutting more than anything it’s the high cost of cable and satellite TV.

Or at least the perception of the high cost. Consumers, even if they end up paying as much with all the streaming services, like the illusion of control that streaming services offer.

Cable and satellite TV fees feel imposed, while the streaming services feel ordered.

Just wait. It won’t be long until you will be able to watch the Super Bowl or the Olympics, the biggest sporting events, without subscribing to a cable or satellite TV service. Then what will Comcast and Time Warner Cable do?