Live TV streaming services aren't any different from cable and satellite television providers, in that they're at the mercy of their content providers. To that end, Alphabet's (GOOG -0.44%) (GOOGL -0.55%) YouTube TV is making waves this week by going public with its spat with Comcast's (CMCSA -1.16%) NBCUniversal arm. Comcast is also speaking out.
Carriage rights end on Thursday for the NBCUniversal broadcasting networks and cable channels available on YouTube's cloud-based platform, and the two sides apparently aren't close to working out an extension. YouTube TV stands to lose a lot of content if the parties go their separate ways, but viewers won't end up empty-handed. In a brilliant move, Alphabet's YouTube TV is promising to cut its monthly rate from $64.99 to $54.99 while the NBCUniversal offerings remain off its platform. A cut is rarely a good look for the company that's slashing prices, but this move sends a message to Comcast's NBCUniversal that it probably isn't ready to hear.
NBCUniversal is a big part of the pay-TV space. Beyond NBC and several regional sports networks, NBCUniversal is also the company behind CNBC, E!, USA, MSNBC, Telemundo, Bravo, Syfy, and other smaller cable properties. We're talking about nearly three dozen channels, though that includes the overlap of regional cable networks. The average YouTube TV subscriber will be losing less than two dozen channels.
Each side is trying to make viewers sympathetic to their cause. NBC Sports, for example, is appealing to football enthusiasts.
Comcast is sending folks to an online landing page where YouTube TV subscribers can switch providers, tweet a pre-scripted appeal out into the wild, or open a chat support request with YouTube TV itself. That's not going to work, of course, since YouTube TV has a much better value proposition for its members. If you can live without the NBCUniversal content, you'll be saving $10 a month. If that doesn't work for you, YouTube TV is encouraging subscribers to consider signing up for Peacock Premium to get access to their missing channels for as little as $4.99 a month.
It may seem odd at first to see Google's live TV platform sending folks directly to the company it's fighting against. If folks sign up for Peacock Premium, bypassing YouTube TV, it becomes less relevant and its monthly collections are $10 a head poorer. Does that make sense? Yes, it does. You just have to approach it from a different perspective.
Peacock Premium, for half the price of the YouTube TV discount to offset the end of the NBCUniversal deal, offers access to live NBC Sports events. It features next-day access to shows form NBC and Telemundo. The content vault itself keeps growing. It should scratch the itch of what YouTube TV is losing for many, but Alphabet is also calling Comcast's bluff.
Neither side has gone public with how much Comcast is demanding Alphabet's live TV subsidiary would have to pay come October to keep the programming partnership going. We can guess that it's in the ballpark of that $10 price cut. YouTube TV insists that NBCUniversal is asking for more than what other services of similar size are paying the media stock.
Spelling it all out to viewers, in the form of a price cut, puts Comcast is a delicate position. It should be making less money through Peacock Premium than it would as part of carriage rights for a live TV service. There's a bigger problem here than just the lighter toll collection. As a standalone service, it's also easier to cut loose when other platforms have more compelling content. Media giants have it easy bundled with other networks, but it's harder to stand out in a crowd if folks can and will cherry-pick what they pay to experience.
Comcast has a lot more to lose than Alphabet does. If YouTube TV survives the end of NBCUniversal, it will be the first domino of many to fall when it bumps up against renewals elsewhere. Will Comcast's NBCUniversal and Peacock see what's happening before it's too late? It's a cliffhanger, and unfortunately for Comcast. this conclusion will be free for anyone to watch.