CenturyLink Joins Streaming Parade

Guess what, sports fans. Yet another major US player is plunging into the OTT video market by launching a skinny bundle service designed to appeal to cost-conscious consumers and millennials.

Making good on the promise from its first-quarter earnings call last month, CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL), the third-largest US telco by subscribers, is introducing the beta version of its new OTT service with this website. Known as CenturyLink Stream, it joins an increasingly congested market for low-cost, skinny-bundle services, jostling against such already established services as Sling TV, PlayStation Vue, DirecTV Now, YouTube TV and Hulu Live. It will also compete in at least some markets against new streaming services introduced by large MSOs Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and Charter Communications Inc. (See CenturyLink Preps for OTT Plunge, The Skinny on Comcast's Skinny Bundle and Charter Dips Into Skinny TV With Stream.)

So, if you're keeping score at home, there are now at least eight major providers of skinny-bundle OTT packages in the US. And that doesn't even take into account whatever Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) is planning to do in the OTT space after closing its $4.5 billion purchase of Yahoo earlier this month. (See Verizon: OTT on Tap as Yahoo Deal Nears Close.)

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How does CenturyLink plan to differentiate its service from all the rest of the streamers? For one thing, it's offering more channels than at least some of its rivals. In addition to a cloud DVR, CenturyLink Stream's basic "Ultimate" package features a lineup of nearly 50 channels, including NBC, ABC, USA, Disney Channel, Animal Planet, TLC, Discovery Network, ESPN, Freeform, Bravo, Food Network, ESPN, A&E, HGTV, Travel, History, Telemundo, Univision, UniMás and Galavision, among others. Other virtual multichannel video programming distributors (vMVPDs) like Sling TV offer as few as 20 channels.

But CenturyLink is charging more than many other vMVPDs for its somewhat fattened skinny bundle. The telco is launching the basic package with a price of $45 a month, although the monthly fee falls to $40 if bundled with the provider's broadband service. Other skinny-bundle services, such as Sling TV again and the new Charter TV Stream service, range as low as $20 a month, albeit for fewer channels.

CenturyLink is also seeking to stand out from at least the Comcast and Charter entries by offering its skinny bundle service nationwide, not just within its wired service footprint. In contrast, Comcast and Charter are both limiting their offerings to their cable footprints, at least for the time being.

In addition, CenturyLink hopes to make waves by offering a second baseline "Latino" package that costs just $15 per month. Besides the standard cloud DVR, this package features 27 Spanish-language channels, including Azteca, BeIn Sports, Discovery en Espanol, ViendoMovies and several Univision Networks, such as Univision Deportes Network, Galavision, Univision and UniMás.

Finally, similar to Sling TV, CenturyLink is aiming to score points with consumers and rake in more revenue by offering lots of add-on services and packages, including a Movies Extra mini-bundle for another $10 per month, a News & Info Extra mini-bundle for $5 per month, Lifestyle Extra for $5 per month, Pop Extra for $5 per month, Variety Extra for $5 per month, Kids & Family Extra for $5 per month, Disney Family Movies for $5 per month, Deportes Extra for $7 per month and Peliculas Extra for $7 per month. CenturyLink is also pitching a slew of channels on an à la carte basis, including Showtime for an extra $9 per month, The Blaze ($4), DuckTV ($2), Fandor ($5), and Motor Trend ($5), as well as regional sports networks in select markets.

How much of a difference all these differentiators will actually make is anybody's guess. But there's clearly plenty of streaming dreaming going around these days.

— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading

Michelle 7/16/2017 | 6:10:16 PM
Re: Dizzy I have the same concerns about all this. I wonder how consumers will compare skinny bundles and add ons while accounting for all the extra fees and promotional pricing. I wonder if the skinny bundle would be so skinny once all that was applied.
kq4ym 7/16/2017 | 11:31:51 AM
Re: Dizzy But I do wonder if the "skinny bundle service designed to appeal to cost-conscious consumers and millennials," may create lots of confusion for consumers. Although CenturyLink will have more channels at a higher cost with some adds ons possible, how does the average consumer make rational choices with all the fine print and usually non-disclosed taxes and fee tacked onto most offerings?
Joe Stanganelli 7/2/2017 | 12:46:39 AM
Yahoo and OTT @Alan: I was given to believe that the VZ purchase of Yahoo assets was primarily a content deal (and, of that content, primarily the print and user-created varieties). How do you see the Yahoo purchase impacting OTT strategy and content for VZ?
Michelle 6/30/2017 | 11:34:32 PM
Dizzy This is great. An abundance of choice may only lead to more indecision... 
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