vMVPD Services: Haven’t We Been Here Before?

With Google, AT&T, Sony and an army of other companies gunning to take over the traditional pay TV business using the internet to deliver linear pay TV services, now might be a good time to ask a couple of basic questions.

How are pay services from virtual MVPD providers (Sling TV, YouTube TV, Playstation Vue, etc.) different from pay TV services from Comcast, Sky and Liberty Media? And, will subscribers get a better pay TV service with the new providers?

Now that Netflix and Amazon have made the all-you-can-eat on-demand services a formidable part of the video-service landscape, the industry is moving to the “everything old is new again” phase. Now, consumers can buy “me too” linear and on-demand TV services from content aggregators (some new and some old) that mimic traditional pay TV—with a few added twists.

The new twists are a mixed bag of goodies, with lower costs the main goodie for subscribers and service providers. Consumers get fewer “channels” but a smaller bill. And service providers don’t have to build and maintain a physical network, plus they can distribute less expensive set-top boxes and gather more subscriber data.

Even the traditional pay TV providers are coming to the trough in a prophylactic attempt to retain potential cord cutters with a vMVPD service like Dish Network (SlingTV) and Comcast, which is rolling out its Xfinity Instant TV service to its broadband subscribers this month.

Service providers are getting to the internet-streaming TV services table on the cheap (as long as they aren’t producing their own content). But what are consumers getting other than a cheaper monthly bill? The expected “anywhere on any device” access, of course, rounds out the benefits.

The rush to deliver all things video on the internet, however, comes with some considerable hand-wringing due to lack of bandwidth. And this “condition” now comes with its own buzz phrase designed to calm the operators: Quality of Experience (QoE). Buffering, uneven picture and sound quality can make subscribers grouchy. Even edge-server service leader Akamai conducted a study that drew that not-so-astonishing conclusion.

And new TV service players should worry about QoE. Poor QoE might drive consumers back to the old pay TV service guard as Greg Scoblete writes in this space about cord cutters. New providers must build reputations and anything from excessive buffering to inability to access content (especially live, which is particularly vulnerable to real-time Twitter rages) can damage it. Problems experienced earlier this year with a live stream of an NFL game earlier drove this point home. More troubling was some of the consumers who paid $100 to watch a live stream of the UFC Mayweather McGregor fight didn’t view a thing and a corresponding class-action lawsuit now exists.

It’s safe to say that many TV service providers are still in the experimental stage and are surely heeding the cautionary tales of real-time sports streaming to sharpen their QoE plans. After all, reputation matters. Luckily for the new players, traditional pay TV providers have set the reputation bar pretty low.