Time Warner Cable’s (NYSE:TWX) management says that the future of pay-TV could look a lot like Pandora (NYSE:P), with personalization reaching TV programming as well. Pandora recognizes what a particular user prefers to hear and plays songs on its radio service accordingly.  Additionally, it also allows users the create personalized radio stations.
Can this level of personalization and choice come to the pay-TV industry? Time Warner Cable thinks so, but we don’t believe that such a development is likely for at least several years. Over the past few years, there have been subtle steps in this direction such as the introduction of DVR services, a greater number of programming tiers and the addition of on-demand content by operators such as Time Warner Cable and Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA). Below we discuss why we believe that true personalization is likely years away.
A La Carte Is One Way To Personalize, But There Is Inertia
There is lot of inertia in the pay-TV industry. Programming packages are currently bundled and cable providers pay around $30 billion each year to content companies.  One of the ways to personalize services is to switch to à la carte programming, which would allow customers to choose the channels to which they subscribe. However content providers have resisted this move as it would almost certainly lead to lower revenues. Currently content providers can sell several channels in a package, which ensures payment for each of those channels whether or not the end consumer really wants to subscribe to them. This ultimately boosts content fees, and if consumers can choose to cancel some of the lesser-wanted channels it could cut into revenues. If the shift to à la carte happens, content providers will likely have to raise prices on the high-demand channels significantly.
A More Likely Way Of Personalization
The other way to personalize is rearranging the content within the packages by utilizing smart-TVs to give a Pandora-like experience. For example a viewer could turn on the the TV and see his or her favorite channels and shows first, without having to navigate much. The smart-TV could also allow a viewer to catch up on a regularly watched show that he or she may have forgotten to record by automatically presenting an on-demand menu. We believe that advanced services such as this are much more likely in the near-term than a shift to à la carte. In fact, many cable operators are planning “remote storage” DVR systems that will store recorded programs at a central location rather than on a subscribers set-top box. This should allow for greater storage space and better management of recordings.
Time Warner Cable believes that personalization will present a significant opportunity for advertising revenues as it would allow companies to better target ads.  While we expect the impact on Time Warner Cable’s value would be minimal as we estimate that advertising only constitutes about 6% of the company’s value, it could be very lucrative for broadcasters and content providers. We expect that the shift to personalization will largely be driven by the need to differentiate in an increasingly saturated pay-TV industry and to prevent potential cord cutting.
Our price estimate for Time Warner Cable stands at $66, implying a discount of just under 20% to the current market price.Notes:
- TWC’s Stern: TV Will Evolve To ‘Pandora-Like’ Model, Multichannel News, March 2012 [↩] [↩]
- Apple may run into trouble with rumored ‘iTV’, bgr.com, Apr 2 2012 [↩]