Cable TV double- and triple-plays are becoming irrelevant

New streaming video bundles from wireless providers and internet companies make legacy TV deals unnecessary.

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Last week, Comcast decided to exact some vengeance on internet subscribers who have abandoned its cable TV service.

While Comcast is providing significant internet speed boosts to its TV subscribers in certain markets (including Houston, Texas; Portland, Oregon; and southwestern Washington state), customers who have only internet service won’t get those upgrades. Given that Comcast has been raising internet prices with the justification that customers are getting more for their money, cord-cutters are effectively being punished with stagnant speeds.

The move probably won’t stop Comcast from bleeding TV subscribers—it lost 96,000 of them last quarter—but it does underscore how cable providers are becoming desperate to prop up the kind of double- and triple-play deals that were once a cornerstone of their business. While Comcast holds internet speeds for ransom, other companies are creating better service bundles outside the cable system, allowing cord-cutters to save money even after they lose the bundle discounts that cable once provided.

Meet the new double play

Now that TV service is uncoupling itself from cable, wireless carriers are starting to step in with bundle deals that cater to cord-cutters.

Last year, for instance, AT&T started providing a $15-per-month discount on DirecTV Now service for customers with certain unlimited wireless data plans, knocking the base price of DirecTV Now down to just $20 per month. When AT&T launches a more limited version of its TV service for $15 per month later this year, wireless subscribers will get it for free. (That service could be more of a PR play by AT&T as it tries to acquire Time Warner, but that’s another story.)

Meanwhile, other wireless carriers have started assembling TV deals of their own. T-Mobile offers free Netflix (an $11-per-month value) for subscribers with unlimited data plans and at least two active lines, and briefly threw in a free year of MLB TV streaming (normally $116) when the baseball season began. Sprint’s unlimited plans include a free subscription to Hulu, which normally costs $8 per month.

Expect to see even more wireless double-play deals in the future, especially as carriers try to market their upcoming 5G wireless networks. T-Mobile has already announced plans to build its own TV service this year, fueled by an acquisition of IPTV startup Layer3 TV. Verizon has also been hinting at a TV offering, which it now says will launch later this year alongside its initial 5G network.

It’d be foolish to view wireless carriers as saviors—they’re often just as underhanded and anti-consumer as wired internet providers—but at least they’ve recognized that bundling their service with TV is a natural fit for a growing audience of cable TV defectors.

New kinds of bundles

Even if you don’t adopt a double play deal from a wireless carrier, there are an increasing number of ways to bundle and save outside of the cable TV world.

Hulu and Spotify recently provided the perfect example: With Spotify’s $10-per-month streaming music service, you can add three months of Hulu for a dollar, followed by a $5-per-month discount on both services. That brings the total to $13 per month with Hulu’s ad-supported plan. (Unfortunately, the deal isn’t available with Hulu’s ad-free plan or live TV service.)

This week, Philo also announced that its $16-per-month sports-free TV bundle will include three months of free Pandora Premium service, which is similar to Spotify and normally costs $10 per month. While this isn’t an ongoing discount, like what Spotify and Hulu are offering, perhaps it’s a sign that more online services will come together with bundle deals in the future.

Even Amazon Prime is a bundle on some level, providing free shipping, Prime Video, a selection of streaming music, and Kindle book rentals for roughly the same price as other standalone video services. (This is true even with Amazon raising Prime prices from $100 per year to $120 per year starting later this month.) And if you want to add a Showtime subscription, it’s $9 per month through Amazon’s Channels for Prime subscribers, versus $11 per month by itself.

Granted, none of this will spare you from needing home internet service, which may explain why Comcast added 397,000 residential internet subscribers last quarter even as its TV subscriber count plummeted. But with a new wave of bundle deals outside the cable system—and cheaper TV service through streaming video providers—traditional double- and triple-play deals just don’t save money like they used to. For a company like Comcast, acts of vindictiveness are all it has left to uphold its pay TV empire.

Update: In response to this story, Comcast has sent the following statement in response to this story: "This year alone, we have boosted speeds for Internet-only customers and customers in packages in more than two dozen different states across the country which added at least 50 Mbps more speed for these customers. In a few of our markets, we are also testing different multi-product packages by changing the Internet tiers for various packages we offer. Importantly, all of our internet tiers can be purchased as a stand-alone service by ANY Xfinity customer. We continue to deliver the fastest speeds to the most homes in the country – in fact, 75% of our customers now have speeds of 100 Mbps or higher and Gigabit service is now available to more than 90 percent of our service area, including Internet-only customers."

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