Over-the-top Web-based television seems to be the way of the future, as demonstrated by Netflix, Hulu (News - Alert), and a host of developments to follow, along with reports of declining cable television viewership numbers. Google's Unplugged service, meanwhile, looks to join in those ranks, and it's just added a major new draw to its operations: CBS.
The newest reports suggest that Google's Unplugged—which will start on YouTube (News - Alert) in the early going of 2017—will have CBS, and may have most of the other major networks following along. Deals with Fox, NBC, and ABC parent company Walt Disney (News - Alert) may be in the offing. The Unplugged service will offer “skinny” bundles of live channels for between $25 and $40 a month, depending on what's all selected.
The bad news, of course, is that Google (News - Alert) will be arriving late to a very crowded party. Netflix and Hulu already have a big part of the subscription market, and with skinny bundles coming from companies like Dish Network with its Sling TV and Sony with its PlayStation Vue, Google may have a tough time on its hands convincing users to step away from current bundles and come over to a similarly-priced bundle. If it can offer better streaming, and lower bandwidth use, it may well manage to land some users. I tried Sling TV myself not so long ago and found the experience poor at best, with a lot of lag and similar issues; it wasn't even close to a match for Netflix streaming.
Google will have one clear advantage on its hands; by playing on YouTube, there will be a lot of users in that neck of the woods already, and signing up even a comparatively slim number of said users means quite a bit of value. Individual channels on YouTube have millions of subscribers; if Google can get the equivalent of Markiplier's subscriber count shelling out $25 a month, that's better than a quarter-billion bucks monthly in the coffers.
That's good, because Google's got another problem: at $25-$40, Google isn't even technically the value provider. Dish Network, for example, starts off its Top 120 package for $54.99 per month. This package contains over 190 channels total. Meanwhile, its own skinny bundle, the Flex Pack, matches Google's top price of $39.99 and offers over 50 channels with customization options. So for Google to really be able to compete, it's either going to have to drop some prices, offer content that can't be had elsewhere, or offer a whole lot more of it. Offering channels that most anyone can get with an outdoor aerial antenna for free will not do the job.
Google likely knows the challenges it will face offering up this new skinny bundle, and has planned accordingly. If Google's final offering looks too much like its competitors, though, it may not manage to do more than skim the market, and end up an also-ran in the field.