Wolk's Week In Review: Max gets sporty, the JIC gets inclusive

Wolk's Week In Review

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1. Max gets Sporty

There are two reasons many people continue to hold on to their cable subscriptions: news and sports. With the launch of CNN Max, Warner Bros. Discovery removed a barrier.

Its announcement this week of a Bleacher Report-branded sports add-on that ties together all of their live NHL, NBA and NCAA sporting events from TBS, TNT and TruTV removes the second one. 

Sort of.

While WBD does indeed have a decent number of live sporting events available, it’s nowhere near what a viewer will be able to get on cable. Especially if that viewer is a football fan or fan of a particular team.

But it’s a start, and for many fans it may also be the impetus for them to figure out how to actually cobble together something on streaming that includes all of the sports they follow. We’re at a point where the Diamond Sports fiasco notwithstanding, many RSNs (regional sports networks) have streaming sites up, and NFL fans can cobble together a plan from things like Sunday Ticket, NFL+, Amazon and Paramount+. 

All of which are less than a cable subscription.

That’s one way to look at the sports deal.

The other is that WBD has created a version of the cable bundle for just $25/month (the sports add-on will be $10) and for many people, that may be enough. Either in general or in terms of keeping Max as one of their “never cancel” apps.

Why It Matters

Churn is a huge issue for streaming services. So the more reasons WBD can give consumers to keep subscribing, the better. And let’s be real: access to CNN and to live sports is as good a reason as any to hold on to a subscription service.

Let’s look at sports fans though. 

On a macro level, you can divide sports fans into two broad categories. Those that are fans of a sport and those that are fans of a particular team. (There is obviously much gray area between the two, and few fans fall squarely into either category, but bear with me on this.) 

Fans of a sport are happy to watch any game so long as it’s a good one and the two teams are somewhat evenly matched. Fans of a particular team are happy to watch any game… so long as their team is playing in it.

Meaning, of course, that fans of a particular sport will be happy to watch Max’s offering (and, for that matter, ESPN’s), while fans of a particular NBA or NHL team are going to want to watch their team’s RSN.

But back to that gray area comment: there are likely many fans of a particular team who are not all that hardcore. Meaning that they will be satisfied with the number of their team’s games that Max has on its new sports tier. And thus move Max into their “must have list.”

This is something keeping all the execs at streaming services up at night. How to become a “must have” versus a “nice to have” or, worse yet, “there’s a show on there I want to see so I’ll subscribe for a month or two and then cancel.”

Sports rights would appear to play a big role here. It’s why Apple, whose lack of any sort of library would seem to put them in the latter category, has invested in Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer.

And why it’s curious that Netflix hasn’t. At least not yet.

Max would seem to have many of the elements in place to ensure it appeals to a wide range of viewers: news, live sports, highbrow popular series of the sort HBO was known for and a massive library of evergreen leanback programming of the sort Discovery and HGTV are known for.

The question is, will it be enough?

My gut says that for many people it will be. The question mark will be around the HBO shows. Max will need to keep pumping out the hits to keep that audience. They’ve managed to do that so far—shows like "White Lotus," "Succession" and "The Last Of Us" seemed to get a lot more Chattering Class attention than anything else on TV (Rupert Murdoch resigns and “Logan Roy” starts trending on Twitter), but they’ve got to keep on pumping out the hits year after year, and given that TV is an art more than a science, that’s a big ask.

What You Need To Do About It

If you’re Max, you know what you need to do: hold on to those NBA rights and start looking at up-and-coming sports as well, from soccer to lacrosse to pickleball, where you might be able to cater to a niche fan base who will be delighted to subscribe in return for your support. The months-long freebie on Sports is a smart move too—gives people time to get addicted.

One question though: is the money you are spending on all those sports rights actually worth it? Meaning will you get enough money from subscribers and ad revenue to make whatever you’re spending worth it? I’m assuming you’ve decided it is, but the answer is far from given.

If you’re one of the other streaming services—Max is on to something here, but it’s not the only thing. People are unlikely to subscribe to just one service. So if you can be the yin to Max’s yang, that’s a good place to be.

If you’re a consumer and Max will have enough sports to adequately float your boat, then this is a very good thing, as it means you can probably give up cable for now and just grab a couple of streaming services, saving yourself a goodly amount of money each month.

2. The JIC gets inclusive

The Joint Industry Committee, which represents most of the traditional media companies in their quest to make streaming measurement much less painful and much more standardized, announced that it was “conditionally certifying” iSpot, VideoAmp and Comscore as currency, part of an overall effort to break the monopoly chokehold non-JIC member Nielsen has over the industry.

The choices were not unexpected in that these are the three leading alternative measurement providers in the industry, nor was the move, as the traditional media companies have been unhappy with Nielsen as of late. 

Or unhappier than usual, to be exact.

Why It Matters

If you remember your recent history, it came to light that Nielsen was doing a pretty bad job of measuring certain households during the pandemic, something the media companies, who felt they were already being undercounted, made a lot of noise about. Enough noise, in fact, that the Media Rating Council (MRC) looked into it and decided to revoke Nielsen’s accreditation.

This seemed to open a door for other companies in the space, and a number of JIC members have already struck deals with iSpot, VideoAmp and Comscore to serve as alternate currency.

There’s also the whole Media Rating Council (MRC) thing.

Nielsen, which has gotten its accreditation back, is in the process of getting MRC accreditation for its big data and panel data products, and has been pushing hard to ensure that the JIC only uses companies that are MRC certified, which, to be real, means Nielsen. 

The other players are in the process of getting their certification, but it is a long and grueling process, and it costs a boatload of money.

So there’s that.

I should also note that the three finalists are all in very different places right now.

iSpot is hot on the heels of its acquisition of rival 605, which gives it access to set-top box data to complement its ACR data.

Comscore, Nielsen’s OG challenger, is a leader in local TV measurement, but still has not staked out a definitive position for itself in streaming.

VideoAmp, which raised $150 million in a Series G earlier this month, simultaneously laid off around 10% of its workforce, or about 40 people.  Kerry Flynn and Sara Fischer, who broke the story for Axios noted that the layoffs “suggest VideoAmp, which still isn't profitable, needs to cut expenses as it works to pay down debt.” 

OTOH, the 40 people VideoAmp laid off is nothing compared to the 1,000 people Nielsen just laid off.

So there’s that too.

What You Need To Do About It

If you’re the MRC, while you want to be diligent, you also don’t want to be seen as intransigent. Meaning you need to find that line between doing your job and making sure that these companies do what they actually say they do (no easy feat) and not making it seem as if you are intentionally creating roadblocks. That’s going to be as much about optics as anything, so remember to keep an eye on it.

If you’re the JIC — which to be fair, also includes most all the major ad networks as well as organizations like the VAB— this is your chance to show the industry the way forward, especially around why having multiple currencies is a very good thing.

You too have a line to walk — making it seem like you’re all about moving things forward and not about punishing Nielsen for not joining — and here again, it’s all about optics.

If you are iSpot, Comscore and VideoAmp, congratulations. Now go out and prove to advertisers and their agencies why having more than one currency provider is a good thing.

I mean I know it is and you know it is, but there are plenty of brand marketers out there who are going to need some heavy-duty convincing.

Alan Wolk is co-founder and lead analyst at the consulting firm TV[R]EV. He is the author of the best-selling industry primer, Over The Top: How The Internet Is (Slowly But Surely) Changing The Television Industry. Wolk frequently speaks about changes in the television industry, both at conferences and to anyone who’ll listen.

Wolk's Week in Review is an opinion column. It does not necessarily represent the opinions of StreamTV Insider.