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Comcast plans to offer a new streaming bundle. Is streaming the new cable?

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Comcast announced this week that it plans to offer a new streaming bundle with Peacock, Netflix and Apple TV+. And when I hear that, it sounds an awful lot like the packages of cable channels that cord-cutting consumers left cable TV to get away from. To help us understand what's going on here and to talk more about the future of streaming TV, we're joined by NPR TV critic and media analyst Eric Deggans. Hey, Eric.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Hey.

SUMMERS: Eric, just start by helping me understand. How does this new Comcast streaming bundle fit into the trends that you're seeing more broadly in the industry?

DEGGANS: Well, I don't know if I can help you with understanding (laughter). No, Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts talked about this bundle at a recent conference. He called it StreamSaver. And he says it's going to allow consumers to get Comcast streaming service Peacock along with Netflix and Apple TV+ at what he called, quote, "a vastly reduced price," but he didn't offer any specific numbers. Now, subscribers would also have to use Comcast internet service like Xfinity or Xfinity TV to access the discount. This announcement comes as we're hearing more details about a different streaming service that would bundle sports coverage from Disney's ESPN, Fox and Warner Bro. Discovery. That's called Venu Sports, V-E-N-U. And there's also a new partnership between Warner Bros. Discovery and Disney to offer a bundle with their streaming services, Max, Disney+ and Hulu, for another yet undisclosed price. So I know that's a lot of names and services to process, but that just shows these companies are trying out a lot of different options for consumers.

SUMMERS: Right. But we've seen consumers drop cable TV services because they're being asked to pay a whole lot of money for channels that they don't actually ever watch. Don't these streaming bundles that we're talking about here run the same sort of risk?

DEGGANS: Absolutely. You bring up a great point. Now, initially, the attraction of streaming was that people could pay a cheaper price for a streaming service that's focused on what they like and watch a lot versus paying this big cable TV bill to get a bunch of channels that they never see. But the price of streaming services has risen steadily in recent years. And it's difficult for any one service, even one as big as Netflix, to offer everything that anyone would want to see. Now, also, you've got media companies like Comcast and Disney. They've got this serious problem. They own a lot of traditional TV platforms like broadcast networks and cable channels, which have provided the bulk of their revenue. But the audience is moving to these streaming services, where they make less money. So how do they come up with deals that keep subscribers inside their web of products? Bundles can help do that.

SUMMERS: Eric, earlier, you also mentioned a sports bundle. What kind of content is missing from these setups?

DEGGANS: Well, first of all, sports is one of the last types of TV programming that streamers don't dominate. So they've been stepping up to offer more. Now, beyond this Venu Sports project, Netflix has announced that we'll have football games on Christmas Day in a new deal with the NFL. ESPN is developing an app that's expected to be a little closer to the programming that they show on their main cable channels. Warner Bros. Discovery is trying to negotiate a new deal to maintain its access to NBA basketball games, and there's reports of competition with Comcast for those rights. And rumors that Amazon is going to have some basketball games, too. So there's lots of sports deals flying around. What we're not hearing about, as CNN's Oliver Darcy recently talked about in his "Reliable Sources" newsletter, is news programming. And this makes sense. You know, it's expensive. It can draw political fights. And it can seem old-fashioned to younger streaming audiences.

SUMMERS: OK, but here's the question I have, Eric. Do you think these streaming bundles will actually work?

DEGGANS: Yeah, as long as the price remains a value for the subscriber. Now, we'll probably see more of these bundles as streamers face more pressure to be profitable and they kind of relax on this notion that all of their content has to be as exclusive as possible. But the cost can't rise to the point where consumers feel, like many have with cable TV, that they're paying too much for services that they don't use.

SUMMERS: That's NPR TV critic and media analyst Eric Deggans. Eric, thank you.

DEGGANS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.
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