Fargo And The Slippery Slope Between Content And Over-The-Top Pure Play Services

By Will Townsend - August 18, 2017
“Don’t cha know-?” I’m a fan of the movie Fargo and an even bigger fan of the television adaptations on FX. Subsequently, I was excited to find all three seasons of the small screen anthology on my new SlingTV service last weekend. I had watched the first two seasons some time ago, so I kicked off my binge-watching of the third season last Friday night. The following day, I settled back in and fired up my Amazon Fire TV. As I scanned the menu, all the Fargo episodes had mysteriously disappeared—using the search feature only returned a little-known 1950s western. I quickly logged into my Sling TV account and found a chat feature.  Just like in Fargo, I was determined to get to the bottom of the mystery! Plausible chat deniability The X-Files and the Independence Day movie forever etched the phrase “plausible deniability” in my mind. However, I wasn’t expecting to experience the same from my Sling TV chat attendant. For the sake of my story, we’ll call him “Norm”. This is a true story.
I directly asked Norm if the series had been removed. In response, and what was certainly a scripted reply he retorted, “I’m not certain but at times content is added and removed from our service.” After some back and forth, Norm finally admitted that Fargo had in fact been removed within the past 24 hours. Without skipping a beat, he immediately pointed the finger at FX saying, “It’s not an issue with our service, the channel owners have the right to decide what they want on demand and what they air.”
Norm made a valid point. Content owners like FX have every right to decide how and where their media is distributed and viewed. However, when subscribers pay to view that content, there are expectations related to not only quality of playback but also availability. Speaking personally, after “cutting the cord,” I selected Sling TV specifically for AMC and the ability to watch The Walking Dead at home (or on my global analyst travels). If that content is ever pulled, I’ll be canceling my Sling TV subscription immediately. Should content have an expiration date like a carton of milk? It stands to reason that Over-the-Top (OTT, for short) “pure plays” that don’t produce original content and content providers like FX have contractual agreements in place that stipulate broadcast start and stop dates. If that’s the case, why not tag long series format content with an expiration date? Why not tag movies with a “curtain call”? Using expiration tags would level-set subscribers on content availability given the ever-growing population of binge watchers. Guess what Norm suggested to me as an alternative to no longer being able to finish the Fargo series on the Sling TV service? A Hulu paid subscription account. No thanks. Bottom line: If OTT “pure plays” pull the content rug out from under subscribers, it will create a poor viewership experience, increase churn with subscription cancellations, and ultimately negatively impact their revenue and profitability. These service providers don’t have the stickiness that Netflix or the upcoming AT&T – Time Warner mega-merger have with original content; thus, they must be competitive in price and provide an exceptional viewership experience. It’s time for improved transparency, given the rapid growth of Internet-based content delivery to consumers over both wireline and wireless networks. OTT service and content providers should work together and not point the finger at one another.
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Will Townsend manages the networking and security practices for Moor Insights & Strategy focused on carrier infrastructure providers, carrier services, enterprise networking and security. He brings over 30 years of technology industry experience in a variety of product, marketing, channel, business development and sales roles to his advisory position.