Editor's Corner—Viacom’s absence from Hulu and YouTube TV: Problem or part of the plan?

Viacom_CREDIT_André-Pierre du Plessis-Flickr
Image: André-Pierre du Plessis/Flickr
Ben Munson

Viacom is on the outside looking in at two of the latest virtual MVPDs (vMVPDs), YouTube TV and Hulu’s upcoming live TV service. But it’s unclear if this is a problem for the programmer or part of the plan.

Last week, Bloomberg outed the news that Viacom would not be a part of Hulu’s linear TV service after the two companies were unable to come to terms for an agreement. Around the same time, Hulu announced that it had signed a distribution agreement with A+E Networks that would place six of the programmer’s channels on Hulu live, making it more difficult for other programmers like AMC, Discovery and Scripps to still hammer out carriage deals with Hulu.

Last month when Google officially announced YouTube TV, it was quickly evident that many programmers including A+E, Discovery, Scripps, Time Warner and Viacom didn’t make the cut. YouTube instead opted to limit the deal to the four major broadcasters and their affiliated cable networks including ESPN, Showtime, FX and USA Network. Viacom, like other nonbroadcast-affiliated programmers not included, is still in discussions with YouTube.

So Viacom’s perceived shutout by both YouTube and Hulu is a sting other programmers are feeling as well. And while Viacom is absent from those services—at least for the time being—the company still has networks on other established vMVPDs including Sling TV and DirecTV Now, though Viacom channels have been dropped by PlayStation Vue.

“We currently have distribution with the largest virtual MVPDs, and are engaged in ongoing conversations with a spectrum of new, emerging digital distributors as we execute against our recently announced strategy,” said Viacom in a statement.

Alan Wolk, an independent media analyst, said that YouTube TV and Hulu live will likely only represent a small size tier of the market, so financially Viacom shouldn’t be too impacted.

“But the optics aren’t great given everything that’s been going on with [Viacom],” said Wolk, adding that advertisers will particularly take note that Viacom is not being included in the new services targeting cord-nevers and cord-cutting millennials.

Of course, while Viacom's exclusion from new vMVPDs might not be an appealing look for some, traditional pay-TV operators could see it as an upside.

As the Bloomberg report points out, Viacom CEO Bob Bakish is pushing to restore his company’s relationship with MVPDs by taking down Viacom programming like “The Daily Show” from SVOD services like Hulu and Amazon that might lure viewers away from linear TV. Though Viacom is likely not done licensing programming to SVODs, it’s possible that it won’t be doing it to the extent demanded by a service like Hulu, which touts its large on-demand library along with its linear service.

As Wolk pointed out, it’s worth noting that the vMVPDs Viacom still has deals with are affiliated with more traditional MVPDs (DirecTV and Dish Network) instead of functioning as outliers like PlayStation and Hulu.

But it’s possible that Viacom’s recent absences from emerging vMVPDs are the latest manifestations of a once-mighty programmer that’s fallen on hard times since it split with CBS. If Viacom had been able to stay married to CBS, its networks logically would have been included in YouTube TV and it would have retained ties to CBS’ broadcast TV content and live sports that would have made Viacom harder to shut out of skinny bundles.

Viacom being left out of YouTube TV and Hulu might merely be a side effect of the programmer’s long-term revitalization plans or a case of the chickens coming home to roost after years of decline. Time will tell. —Ben