Here Come The TV Industry Prognostications


It’s that time of year again.

Crowded airports, icy sidewalks, and pundits galore.

Grab a hot cocoa, ’cause here’s what they say is in store.

Leon Lazaroff and Ronald Grover of The Street have put on their Soothsayer Ski Caps and have offered some very intriguing TV industry predictions for 2017.

Among the highlights: AMC Networks is a “Dead Net Walking,” if you will, and a certain three-letter company expected to get an Initial Public Offering (IPO) done in the next 12 months is a top suitor.

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Indeed, having had “little or no chance” to acquire the Starz pay-TV network, none other than CBS Corp. is supposedly in the running for AMC. The network has struggled of late, as cult favorite The Walking Dead has seen significant ratings erosion in its current season. Meanwhile, blockbuster series such as Mad Men and Breaking Bad have not surfaced since those two series concluded their lengthy and successful runs.

Noting that CBS is “freed of the burden of having to consider a merger with CBS … CEO Leslie Moonves buys AMC’s stable of quality networks on the cheap — shares have fallen more than 33% over the past 12 months. CBS’s Showtime Now streaming service also would benefit from an additional pipeline for movies and episodic series,” writes Lazaroff, the senior political writer for The Street, and Grover, the former Reuters and BusinessWeek Los Angeles Bureau Chief, who chimes in with Lazaroff as a guest pundit.

“Having CBS as an owner would take some of the heat off of AMC’s creative types, weighted down in recent quarters by Wall Street’s rather unfair demand that it quickly generate a super-duper blockbuster show to fill the place of The Walking Dead when it eventually dies,” they note.

If that’s not enough of a big deal for you, try this one on for size:

The Walt Disney Co. could acquire the outstanding shares in Major League Baseball (MLB) Advanced Media spinoff BAMTech, and then spin off ESPN.

Disney presently owns one-third of BAMTech, and “as subscriber levels and profit margins continue to fall at ESPN … the newly independent ESPN is then able to secure even wider distribution while its ownership of BAMTech allows it to participate in the launch of new streaming services the world over,” Lazaroff and Grover write.

Hearst owns 20% of ESPN, and a spin off the entertainment and sports programming network could be beneficial given the cable TV universe estimates (UEs) that Nielsen is sticking with.
ESPN was at the heart of a cable TV industry fury that spooked a lot of people just as Halloween parties revved into overdrive.

On Nov. 4, after an exhaustive internal investigation by dozens of Nielsen staffers that began nearly a week earlier, Nielsen affirmed that its November 2016 Cable Network Coverage Area Universe Estimates were accurate as originally released.

This affirmed steep drops in UEs for ESPN, which responded in a statement that said, “This most recent snapshot from Nielsen is a historic anomaly for the industry and inconsistent with much more moderated trends observed by other respected third party analysts. It also does not measure DMVPDs and other new distributors and we hope to work with Nielsen to capture this growing market in future reports.”

Bruce Leichtman, President and Principal Analyst at New Hampshire-based Leichtman Research Group, agreed.

November UEs showed ESPN losing 621,000 homes, ESPN2 shedding 607,000 homes and ESPNU minus 674,000 homes, sports journalist Ken Fang reported at

“I’m not going to question Nielsen, per se, but that number of losses in one month in Q4 is a bizarre aberration,” Leichtman said in an interview with RBR + TVBR. “It is out of context.”

Among the other predictions from Lazaroff and Grover:
  • Viacom sheds a minority interest in the struggling Paramount Pictures. Noting that newly installed permanent CEO Bob Bakish‘s “enthusiasm and eye for talent may not be enough to offset weak revenue growth at the company’s cable TV networks amid the pressure of having to finance $11.9 billion in debt,” Viacom could offer up to bidders a 49% stake in Paramount. This would “generate some much-needed cash and re-energize its flagging movie business,” the pair write.
  • Sirius XM and Pandora get a deal done. RBR + TVBR reminds readers that it was CNBC reporter and analyst David Faber who sent the renewed deal discussions into orbit in early December. While these discussions might be in the first inning, they seem to be serious.
  • Federal rules could allow content exclusivity. Lazaroff and Grover believe it could happen: What if media companies aren’t required to make their networks available for all pay-TV operators? What if the only way to watch debut episodes of The Walking Dead is at CBS All Access? What if certain shows on TBS are only available on DirecTV Now?

The latter scenario doesn’t seem as likely as the pair’s other suggestions.

But, they note, “When making predictions, it’s generally safe to say the future is uncertain and change is coming. But for the U.S. media industry now, that assessment may be an understatement.”