At first blush it seems like yet another streaming service the market doesn't really need. Between Netflix (NFLX 0.20%), Comcast's Peacock, Walt Disney's Disney+, and others, consumers seem to have plenty of higher-profile digital video venues to choose from. The upcoming launch of discovery+ from Discovery (DISC.A) (DISCK), however, just might get enough traction to be a worthwhile venture.
That doesn't mean it will be a game-changer for the company. It does mean, however, that it has a shot at offsetting the impact of continued cord-cutting within the cable television industry. At the heart of this likely success is how consumers are changing their TV-buying habits.
The company made the announcement last week. After months of talking about it, discovery+ will launch on Jan. 4 of the coming year. Subscribers will be able to plug into more than 50,000 episodes of television programming from Discovery's channels like HGTV, Travel Channel, Animal Planet, Food Network, and of course, Discovery Channel itself.
The prices of $4.99 per month for the ad-supported version or $6.99 for the ad-free version are both competitive enough compared to direct rivals like the aforementioned Peacock, or AMC+ from cable TV content company AMC Networks (AMCX 9.89%). The latter sells for $8.99 per month through select platforms, offering access to programming from channels like IFC, Shudder, and Sundance NOW.
Doubts are understandable. Discovery+ offers a respectable degree of quality and quantity, but it doesn't have any must-watch titles like Disney's The Mandalorian or Netflix's The Crown. Rather, like AMC's regular cable lineup, Discovery's cable lineup consists of channels consumers just happen to also watch because they're included in the cable package they're already paying for anyway.
This idea is meted out in the numbers. Whereas Disney is charging your cable provider on the order of $7 to $8 per month for the right to retransmit ESPN's high-demand sports broadcast, non-sports lifestyle and general entertainment channels can easily cost $1 per month, if not much, much less.
These low carriage fees, coupled with how consumers buy TV entertainment, however, are the key to Discovery's opportunity with Discovery+.
A new kind of cable package
It's become a bit misleading to say consumers are cutting the cord en masse. It would be more accurate to say they're just revising how they pay for cable, and cable TV providers just happen to be on the wrong end of that trend.
Technology entertainment research company Parks Associates has quantified this trend with some eye-opening numbers, reporting earlier this month that 61% of the United States' broadband-using households subscribe to two or more streaming services. Parks further says 45% of the nation's broadband subscribers utilize three or more of these over-the-top television platforms. What's more, 31% now pay for three or more streaming services.
Most all of these consumers make Netflix their core over-the-top holding, according to cable and streaming set-top box maker Tivo, with Disney's Hulu and Disney+, Amazon's Prime, and even YouTube distributed fairly evenly among consumers' other top choices. But, there's room among 'the others' to squeeze a niche offering like discovery+ into a handful of America's roughly 109 million broadband-connected households.
The trend is working in Discovery's favor, too. Parks Associates says that a year ago, only 29% of broadband-connected households were signed up for at least three streaming names. Ampere Analysis predicts the average U.S. household will eventually have on the order of eight different streaming services, more than four of which won't be sports-oriented.
Slowly but surely, consumers are rebuilding the cable plans they're cancelling with more customized packages of their own creating.
Crunching the numbers
Only time will tell if discovery+ will be able to get enough traction to matter, but there's one encouraging piece of data that says it just might. AMC Networks says it expects to be serving between 5 million and 5.5 million paying streaming customers before the end of this year. It's gotten to that mark without any smash hits too, other than zombie cult hit The Walking Dead...which still isn't exactly a mainstream draw. Should discovery+ draw the same sized crowd of 5 million customers paying a minimum of $4.99 per month, that's annualized revenue of at least $300 million.
That's admittedly only a drop in the bucket compared to its trailing 12-month revenue of nearly $10.7 billion, but 5 million subscribers is also only the beginning. Roughly 80 million traditional cable TV media customers are still paying steep monthly bills in the U.S. alone, and millions more outside of the United States. As more of them cut the cord, Discovery will be able to offer them something that at least partially (and cost-effectively) replaces the cable channels they just might end up missing.
Whatever streaming numbers discovery+ manages to drive, they certainly can't hurt. Discovery's already spending money to create this video content for conventional cable distribution anyway.