Streaming Service to Debut Without Pricey Sports Channels

Discovery Communications, Viacom, AMC Networks, A+E Networks and Scripps Networks Interactive are joining forces to create a new streaming service catering to people who don’t want sports in their streaming TV bundles. According to sources, the service will have a soft launch in the next few weeks, cost less than $20 per month, and offer nonfiction, lifestyle, children’s and scripted drama programs from the channels owned by these networks. Media outlets have discussed a bundle without sports for some time.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the upcoming bundle, which will be branded Philo, will include Discovery’s ID, TLC and Animal Planet; Scripps’ HGTV and Food Network; Viacom’s Nickelodeon, MTV, Comedy Central and BET; as well as channels from AMC and A+E.

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To get the programming, subscribers need an antenna for broadcast signals from ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC, “and perhaps a subscription to another web TV bundle for additional channels.”

Up until now, “given how the pay-television business is structured, it has been tough for consumers to avoid paying for sports channels,” but streaming now “offers new possibilities.” Philo, the company running the service (also branded Philo), “has specialized in streaming TV for college campuses.” The name is a reference to TV pioneer Philo Farnsworth.

Although Philo “will start out as a direct-to-consumer streaming service … the goal is to eventually get established pay-TV providers to offer similar packages.” That will be tricky since “pay-TV providers will have to account for agreements they have with certain big media companies, such as Disney and Time Warner, requiring that certain channels are available to a large percentage of the subscriber base.”

The negotiations already started; in April, Bloomberg reported, “that media companies were in talks with pay-TV distributors to create online TV services for consumers who don’t want to pay for sports.” Skinny bundles are being offered by a variety of players, but some networks will be left out. In fact, that includes “some of the companies planning the nonsports bundle.”

Another hurdle is that, “there is a limit to how many individual services customers can purchase before the costs become overwhelming and negate the benefits of cutting the cable-TV cord in the first place.”